Chennai, Feb. 22 -- It will be the first time since the change in his, and his team's, fortunes that MS Dhoni will be playing a Test at Chennai, his second home.
It is significant because it will provide the Indian cricket board president, N Srinivasan, the opportunity to judge first-hand if his decision to persist with his blue-eyed boy as India captain, against an overwhelming expert opinion, was indeed the right call.
The last time Dhoni played a Test here, versus England in 2008, India's fortunes were on the rise. It resulted in the epic win, chasing 380 plus in the fourth innings.
Thus, this game comes at a crucial juncture for the Ranchi man. From being one of the best to have led India, the Chennai Super Kings' brand No 1 has seen his fortunes slump. He now has the dubious distinction of holding on to the job only due to his Chennai connection.
The case against 'conflict of interest' has only strengthened with Dhoni's new role as India Cements vice-president, added to the CSK bond. It's no secret that the Board chief holds enormous clout in Indian cricket. The winds of change have been blowing long enough, but the big man of Indian cricket has ruthlessly dismissed all calls for change.
Lack of options for captaincy looks a convenient excuse and, barring the national selectors, it will be tough to find any ex-India player voting against change.
Such blind support is unprecedented in international cricket. In most cases, one humiliation like England is enough to cost the captain his job. Here we are talking about three such experiences.
Individually, Dhoni has retained his fierce competitive streak. To come out and perform the way he has with the bat under pressure speaks volumes of his courage. But down the line, he has lost the knack he had of getting the best out of his men.
To be fair, the team's foundations have been shaken because of the loss of ageing warriors. Lately, he has come up with disastrous decisions, selecting the wrong combination, misreading his team's strengths, asking for wrong playing conditions and making wrong moves in the field.
It's advantage Dhoni in all respects in the series opener. His godfather will cast his benevolent gaze from his box. And there is no other Test venue where Dhoni enjoys such crowd support. Let's see if he can win the battle at his adopted home and lead a turnaround in Indian cricket or whether Chennai would be eye-opener for the most powerful man in Indian cricket.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.