I don’t know how this happened so fast, but professional cricket writers have given us a strange storyline: If India doesn’t do well against England — that is, really well, as close to whitewash well — then M.S. Dhoni’s captaincy will be imperiled. This is strange because a) when Dhoni lost seven overseas Tests in a row, we all shrugged our shoulders (well, most of us did) and b) when India failed to progress in the T20 World Cup, we all quickly cited complicated NRR arithmetic and counterfactuals to forgive him. So why are suddenly giving him an ultimatum?
I imagine this is how the Indian fan’s mind works: We know that the national side is so terrible overseas that any victory is a gift from God; an overseas loss is merely confirmation of reality and the cruel fates, which we cannot change. But India at home is something else; it’s all we have in cricket — it functions the way the “Indians invented zero” line does in arguments about the relative worth of civilizations (“Sure, we are surrounded everyday by horrifying poverty, but we did think up 0, you know”). If India fails at home, then we are, really, nothing.*
Well, I think it’s all silly. If there was a time to seriously reevaluate Dhoni, it came last year, when he failed to achieve the holiest chalice of them all — a victory in Australia. At this point, he is merely a caretaker captain — someone to warm the seat until we can figure out how to replace him (and Laxman and Dravid). Everything that we need to know about Dhoni as a captain, we know. He can do nothing now until 2014, when the next overseas Test takes place, to change his legacy. I have a lot of respect for Dhoni — double CSK champion, T20 champion, ODI winner, No. 1 Test team, and all that — but he is now what Clinton was post-1998 impeachment: a placeholder until the next big election.