Will Eden Gardens see Dhoni equal Dada's record?
Mahendra Singh Dhoni goes into the third Test against England aware that a win will help him equal Sourav Ganguly's record at the Eden Gardens. Bikash Mohapatra on the landmark that awaits.
It can't get better than this.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is only one win short of matching Sourav Ganguly as India's most successful Test captain.
Should he lead his team to victory in the third Test against England, starting Wednesday, the 31-year-old will equal Dada's achievement.
What makes it more special is the fact that the said match will be played at Eden Gardens, Ganguly's home ground. Considering Dhoni also played at the venue in his formative years, it would be doubly special for him to equal Dada's record of 21 Test wins in Kolkata.
The odds though are stacked against him and Team India.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (right) speaks with Saurav Ganguly
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
Dhoni hasn't been assertive overseas
A comprehensive win in the opener at Motera had set the expectations high, of exacting a 4-0 whitewash -- retribution for the humiliation suffered in the corresponding series in England last year.
The second Test at the Wankhede had everything going for the home team -- the curators obliging to the captain's call for a turning track, the team going in with three regular spinners and, most importantly, winning the toss, batting first and putting up a good total on board.
Yet, India lost. The English renaissance, led by Kevin Pietersen, coming as a shocker for the home team.
Not only did the visitors win comprehensively, but their spinners, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, completely outdid their Indian counterparts. The result not only nullified Team India's advantage, but also dashed any hopes of a clean sweep.
Besides, it did Dhoni's faltering reputation no good.
Unlike, Ganguly, whose record he is trying to match, Dhoni hasn't been as assertive overseas.
Image: India's Saurav Ganguly (left) speaks with Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
Dhoni has been more like Mohammad Azharuddin
Ganguly's stint as India's most successful Test captain ever was highlighted by the fact that he made Team India perform better on the road.
Traditionally poor travellers, the Indian team won Test matches in England (Nottingham in 2002) and Australia (Adelaide in 2004) during his tenure while simultaneously asserting their authority in the subcontinent with wins in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Dhoni, on the contrary, has been more like Mohammad Azharuddin -- whose 14 Test wins as captain all came in the subcontinent -- when it comes to his captaincy record. Maybe a tad better, but that's not saying much.
The 31-year-old started his tenure as Test captain on an impeccable note, not losing in any of his first 11 Tests.
During the period India bested Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (twice each) on home soil while also getting the better of England and West Indies.
They also managed to hold South Africa -- the innings defeat against the Proteas at Nagpur in February 2010 being Dhoni's lone Test defeat on home soil till the Wankhede debacle.
In the process Team India also registered its 100th Test win -- against Sri Lanka in Kanpur and went on to become the No.1 Test nation in the world.
Dhoni's also had credible results overseas during the period, leading his side to a first series win in 35 years in New Zealand (in 2009) and another in the West Indies last year. Besides, Team India notched up a historic first ever win at Kingsmead (Durban) in 2011 despite going on to lose the series.
Thereafter began the slump.
Image: Saurav Ganguly talks with Mahendra Singh Dhoni (right)
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
The onus of captaincy has affected Dhoni's performance as a player
Team India went to England last year as favourites. They returned without winning a match and having lost their top ranking.
The following tour Down Under witnessed an encore, India getting thrashed 4-0 – with Dhoni being the captain in three of them -- despite going in as favourites to win their first ever series on Australian soil.
The defeat at Wankhede meant Team India had lost nine of its last 15 Tests, with four of its five wins in the period coming against minnows West Indies (no offence meant) and New Zealand.
And Dhoni had led India in all but one of those nine defeats, thereby tarnishing his record (and credentials) to a considerable extent. (Dhoni had lost just three of his first 26 Tests as captain)
Besides, like Ganguly, there is no denying the fact that the onus of captaincy has affected Dhoni's performance as a player, both as a batsman and behind the stumps as well.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar (centre) and Sourav Ganguly along with Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Photographs: Stu Forster/Getty Images
It's up to Dhoni to stand up and deliver
The steady decline in his performance becomes all the more apparent when the team is underperforming.
In fact many former players haven't hesitated in saying that on current form Dhoni doesn't deserve a place in the team.
Underperformance, and differences with the coach (Greg Chappell), had cost Ganguly his captaincy as well as place in the team. Dhoni has a steady relationship with the coach but Team India's recent results have ensured an increasing uncertainty surrounding Duncan Fletcher's position.
So even as Dhoni steps into Eden Gardens aware that a win would help him equal the record of Ganguly (at the latter's home turf), he also knows that India will be on the back foot going into the match.
Another defeat and Dhoni might not get many more opportunities to match Ganguly's impeccable record as captain, let alone better it.
The stage is set. A landmark waits.
It's up to Dhoni, the captain and the player, to stand up and deliver.
Image: Saurav Ganguly talks with Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty