MS Dhoni never faced as much pressure as captain as when India were whitewashed in England and Australia respectively in 2011/12 and after the home drubbing against England. Despite that, he sailed through all the losses and continued as captain till the 2014/15 Aussie tour. But what if he didn't?
There was enormous pressure on MS Dhoni the Test captain after India faced back-to-back away whitewashes in England and Australia respectively in the 2011/12 phase. To add insult to injury, India also lost a home series against England in 2012, which was only India's second home Test series loss since the start of the century. Embarrassed by the team's lackluster performances over and over again, MS Dhoni decided to step down from captaincy and retired from Tests to focus on limited-overs cricket.
Gautam Gambhir, who built up Kolkata Knight Riders from the abyss to help them win their maiden IPL title earlier in the year, with a 100% winning record captaining India, is appointed as the new Test skipper. Gambhir, a senior player, one of the best Indian Test batsman, considered leader of men is tasked to breath a new fire and energy in a struggling side going through transition phase while his Delhi teammate Virat Kohli is made his deputy so that he learns the tricks and trades of captaincy under the guidance of Gambhir.
India drop Virender Sehwag, who is on a decline and also Yuvraj Singh as the left-hander failed terribly against England. As a result, Murali Vijay is drafted to open with Gambhir while the experienced Subramaniam Badrinath, considered a technician with the bat and a domestic run machine, replaces Yuvraj. Wriddhiman Saha takes place of Dhoni and the promising Naman Ojha, who averaged 47.44 in the last two Ranji seasons and proved his talent with his IPL exploits, is called up as a reserve gloveman.
India start with a bang under Gambhir as on spin-friendly wickets, they beat Australia black and blue and avenge the whitewash Down Under by clean sweeping them. However, the series also marks the Test debut of Ojha in the final Test, who takes place of Saha after the latter has a horrible run with the bat, and makes an immediate impression with a well-made fifty.
India then beat West Indies at home quite easily which is also the last international series for Sachin Tendulkar but Badrinath who had performed well in the last series takes his game to another level as he shines in the series win to prove to the world that he ain't just a domestic bully and can wear down and post big scores at the highest level as well.
The Big SENA challenge
After back-to-back Test series wins at home, Gambhir and co. brace themselves for the next SENA cycle which will see India clash with South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia respectively. It is also the beginning of a new era as life post Sachin resumes with South Africa as the next challenge.
India miss out on a Test win in the series opener in Johannesburg despite having the upper hand as South African batsmen play exceptionally well. However, before the two sides can take a breather they meet again this time in Durban where India had won on the last tour in 2010. They decide to swap Ishant Sharma with Umesh Yadav for the X-factor that he brings with his express pace for the second Test.
Batting first, India make in excess of 500 runs taking from where they left in the second innings at Jo'burg as Vijay, Rahane and Pujara make fifties each, but it is Badrinath, who after a quiet first Test, hammers his first 150 plus-score away from home. On back of Umesh's five-wicket haul, India take a big lead of 160 runs, then make 223 in the second innings to set a target of 384, which is beyond South Africa's reach as they clinch their first ever Test series win in South Africa.
Gambhir scripts history as captain but he fails miserably in South Africa with the bat. Vijay also has back-to-back average series at best against West Indies and South Africa, which prompts Gambhir to bring in his state teammate Shikhar Dhawan in the XI, who has been rising up the ladder in domestic cricket and brings the Virender Sehwag brand of cricket at the top, which, Gauti feels, is needed in SENA nations, where bowlers need to be put under pressure upfront.
India have the worst possible start in two-match New Zealand Test series as they make merely 202 in response to New Zealand's massive 503 run first innings total. But Gambhir's aggressive captaincy and never give up attitude, which had seen him play a masterclass in Napier in 2009, inspires India to bundle out the Kiwis for 105 in the second innings as they don't drop shoulders and keep the fighting spirit alive.
Still, India have a stiff target of 407 runs. Proving Gmabhir's prophecy right, Dhawan makes a brilliant ton in what is his debut Test and he combines with Kohli in a big stand. But at 248 for 4, India still have a massive task in hand. However, Badrinath, who has been a star performer for India, in his short yet highly successful career thus far, unleashes his zen-esque calmness in a pressure chase and makes 80 and combines with Ojha, who makes a quick fire fifty, which is backed by Jadeja and Zaheer's cameos as India chase down world's third highest total to carve history. India fail to whitewash New Zealand though as Brendon McCullum makes 302 in the second Test to help his side draw the game. But India win the Test series 1-0.
Despite impressive wins in South Africa and New Zealand with Gambhir proving his prowess as a great captain, his decline as a batsman is visible. His batting flaws are getting exposed over and again. The southpaw takes his troops to England but he has to prove a point as a batsman as he is increasingly becoming more like Mike Brearley, an excellent captain but a poor batsman.
England drubbing and start of a new era
In England, Gambhir's India face chin music as they are completely outplayed by a triumphant England as Root, Ballance, Buttler and Cook prove too good for Indian bowlers while the likes of Anderson, Broad, Jordan and Moeen Ali, also have a great time against a strong Indian batting, which has it's first poor series in a long time. India lose the series 0-3 and Gambhir has another horror run with the bat in the five-match series which intensifies questions on his place.
Now with the Australia tour approaching later in 2014, selectors decide that Gambhir can no longer continue as skipper given his horrendous run as a batsman and the never ending decline. The decision is made easier with the rise of Virat Kohli, who has close to 30 Tests under his belt and is potentially India's future skipper. And having worked closely with Gambhir, Virat has learned a great deal and is ready to lead the side in full-time capacity. He starts the captaincy roller-coaster ride Down Under.
The challenge is as big as it gets as Kohli just had a poor England series and with Australia, things never get easy. However, he is up for the challenge and makes a brilliant century in his debut innings as captain in the first Test. India have a tough chase of 364 runs at hand, but much like his predecessor Gambhir, under whom India had hunted down a historic chase in New Zealand, they decide to go for the win in Adelaide.
Replacing Gambhir, Vijay makes his comeback count as he makes a brilliant 99 while Kohli makes a memorable ton. But things get tricky as Lyon gets on a roll with the fifth day rough as India slip from 242 for 2 to 242 for 4. But then comes Badrinath at 6, he has been demoted a place lower so that he can ease the nerves playing with the tail, since he’s known for his exceptional game against spinners.
The Chennai batsman, who has the calmness of a monk and experience of a veteran, has captain Kohli for company. They put on a 62-run-stand before Kohli is dismissed with India needing 60. But Badrinath puts up a finishing masterclass as tourists win the game by three wickets. They lose the second Test, but the last two Tests end in draws, meaning the series ends 1-1 like 2004/05 tour. Kohli’s India manage to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy as he leads from the front, not letting India miss Gambhir even one bit.
It also marks the end of what turns out to be a short yet phenomenal and memorable Test career for S Badrinath as he decides to bid adieu on a high and finishes his career with a mind-boggling Test average of 58.