'Ready to quit Test captaincy for a better replacement'
Facing severe criticism for his unimpressive captaincy and performances in Test cricket, under-fire Mahendra Singh Dhoni has offered to quit the leadership role in the longer format of the game if the Board of Control for Cricket in India feels there is a better replacement waiting in the wings.
Dhoni said if somebody can do a better job than him in Tests, then he will be more than happy to step down as captain for the sake of the team.
"It [captaincy] doesn't belong to anyone. It's a position I hold, and it's an added responsibility. I always like to do well till I am in job, but it's not something I want to stick to. If there is a better replacement, he can come in," Dhoni said, ahead of Wednesday's first Twenty20 game against Australia.
"At the end of the day, you want India to perform. If there is someone who can do a better job, captaincy should be given to him. It's not something you have to cling on to," said Dhoni.
Image: MS Dhoni
Dhoni struggling as a batsman too
Dhoni has now lost seven straight Test matches abroad as captain, and as a batsman his stocks have really fallen low on foreign pitches.
While he aggregated 220 at 31.43 from four Tests in England, he scored 102 from six innings of three Tests at 20.40 on the present tour.
"The responsibility was given to me three-and-a-half years ago. I am trying to fit into the shoes, get along with the team and perform well."
Dhoni had earlier dropped hints during the Test series that he might leave Test cricket altogether by 2013 to make himself available the 2015 World Cup.
'It's two years to 2013. I don't know whether I would still be alive! There would be IPL, Champions League, back-to-back series. It's not a calendar you can decide in advance or if there is a lot of rest,' Dhoni had said.
"I would have to decide by 2013. I can't say in 2014 that I am not playing next World Cup and give a player of 25-odd matches [a chance to prove]," he said.
Image: MS Dhoni
'Test cricket is real cricket'
Dhoni, however, made it clear that his journey as a Test cricketer is far from over, but believes the decision is not entirely in his hands.
"I am still on my way [through the journey]. I haven't reached anywhere. But it's not an individual who decides; it's others who decide whether you are good enough or not.
"As a player, I am giving my 100 per cent. I am still doing what I was doing. Test cricket is real cricket, but I am not discarding other formats. Every format has its own challenges," he said.
India's captain made a tongue in cheek remark about the dressing room, which according to him is humming with the noise and bubble of youngsters -- in contrast to the staid, sober and solemn environment when the seniors were around.
"Our one-day squad looks very different. It's lot more noisy and lifts the dressing room atmosphere. People pull each other's legs and it's more lively. It's very, very different," he said.
"It's like you have come from Kishore Kumar to Sean Paul! It's that kind of difference. It's very noisy. It's a very different generation of players.
"As for me, I keep adjusting. A mix of everything is good. From classical to rap music of latest version," he said.
Image: MS Dhoni
'Age is just a number'
Without mentioning any names, Dhoni also took pains to emphasise the importance of senior players in the team and said the criticism coming at their doors after the Test debacle is unjust.
"Age is just a number. If people keep scoring runs, nobody would talk about it. When you don't score runs, everything comes out -- how fast you can run, your turning speed. But we don't get worried about it."
Looking ahead, he expects good performances from the team in the shorter formats of the game over the next few weeks.
"(Suresh) Raina and (Virat) Kohli have been around. Then there is Rohit Sharma, who is very talented but not part of our Test side; we were not able to give him adequate chances," he said.
Image: MS Dhoni, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag
'We don't have a seam bowling all-rounder'
Dhoni rued the absence of a seaming all-rounder as the sole missing link in his team.
"A lot depends on where you are playing. If you are playing in the subcontinent, spinners become vital. The wicket slows down a bit and even part-timers can have a bowl.
"When it comes to England and Australia, it changes. We don't have a perfect seam bowling all-rounder and it would have really balanced out the side. Then we could have five bowlers who can be really effective," he observed.
He was full of praise for all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, who has started to make his impression felt as a multidimensional player, but said it would be wrong to compare the Saurashtra player with Yuvraj Singh.
"Jadeja has begun to contribute [like Yuvraj]. He gives us a similar kind of balance. He more often than not bowls his 10 overs and is good enough to bat at number 6 of 7. We can play three fast bowlers and two spinners," he said.
"But it's difficult to replace Yuvraj Singh, who changes his batting style according to the situation in the game," Dhoni said.
Image: Ravindra Jadeja
The skipper also feels that India is a better fielding side in limited-overs games.
"We have improved as a fielding side, especially in ODIs. To stop batsmen from taking a quick single and the opportunity to run him out is critical in T20s and ODIs," Dhoni said.
"Fortunately, I have players who from in-field go to boundary in slog overs without a hassle. I am not too worried about the right fielder at the right position."
He underlined the importance his team attaches to the two Twenty20 games, in Sydney and Melbourne, this week.
"We don't get to play too many Twenty20 Internationals. We need to make the most of it. We must not yet think about the ODIs. We would look to win this game (Sydney)."
Image: Suresh Raina
Dhoni wary of Lee
Asked about Australia's present Twenty20 unit, especially Brett Lee, 40-year-old spinner Brad Hogg and captain George Bailey, who was part of the Chennai Super Kings squad in the IPL, Dhoni had good things to say about the trio.
"He's (Lee) a very good bowler with plenty of experience. He's always experimenting, always trying to come up with deliveries which can help contain [the batsmen]. He bowled well in Big Bash (League) and he's quick and also has variations when it's needed.
"He's among the top few. (Lasith) Malinga would be up there with his slinging action too which is very difficult to pick," Dhoni said.
"Bailey has been with Chennai Super King. I've interacted with him and he's an interesting character. He plays strokes, is intelligent and understands the game well.
"[As for Hogg], the spinners are like wine. They more they age, the better they get. It would be a nice contest between the youngsters and him."
Image: Brett Lee