Main pal do pal ka shayar hun, pal do pal meri kahani hai — Mahendra Singh Dhoni used this iconic Mukesh song to bid adieu to his stellar international cricket career on 15 August 2020. “Dramatic”, “unceremonious”, “unconventional” — Dhoni’s announcement had taken the cricket world by surprise when he asked people to “consider him retired”, once and for all.
But Mahi is back. And his story is not going to be ‘pal do pal ki’ because he will be seen donning the blue again, this time as a mentor for the Indian cricket team for the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, as announced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary Jay Shah.
The news is big indeed, and the reactions have been magnanimous too. Fans cannot keep their calm to see Mahi back in the dugout, and cricket experts have also welcomed the move.
BCCI President Sourav Ganguly said that the inclusion of MS Dhoni to the side was a way to use his experience for the T20 World Cup. According to a report in The Indian Express, Jay Shah felt Dhoni was the only person who could help the team during the T20 World Cup.
Big ask for Dhoni
Whether only Dhoni’s presence is going to make a significant difference for India to bring the ICC T20 World Cup for the second time is a big ask. Because let’s face it — Dhoni was very much a part of the squad when India played two major ICC events under Virat Kohli’s captaincy. But the results were not the best. India lost to Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy Final and New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semifinal.
The loss to Pakistan was by a huge margin of 180 runs and the memories of this match are never going to fade away given the hyperbole associated with any India-Pakistan match. This was a big blow to the Indian cricket team.
Dhoni stepped down as skipper of the limited-overs team in January 2017, handing over the reins to Virat Kohli, clarifying that he wanted the incoming skipper to have enough time to prepare for the 2019 World Cup. But India lost the World Cup semifinals to New Zealand by 18 runs which also was Dhoni’s last international match. It’s safe to say that Dhoni’s presence couldn’t help in those two big ICC tournaments. But has anything changed since?
A supporting role
To win a match, what matters is the kind of real-time decision-making that happens on the pitch and how the players deal with the pressure. It is the sole jurisdiction of the captain to make such decisions. Coaches, mentors and other support personnel can only be there in the dugout.
Winning or losing a tournament cannot just be a matter of having a mentor or coach with a decorated career. It is not the first time that former players with stellar records have been assigned to guide the cricket team. The current coach Ravi Shastri, former coach Anil Kumble, and present BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly are all former players with glorious careers.
During Anil Kumble’s term, India became the number one Test team and won 12, losing just one Test during his 17-match run as India’s coach. He stepped down in 2017, when India lost the Champions Trophy to Pakistan. Virat Kohli went on to become full-time captain that year and under his captaincy, India’s test cricket record has only improved, making him one of the most successful Indian test captains.
Also, it is worthy to note that Sandeep Patil was the coach of the Kenyan cricket team at the 2003 World Cup. While Sandeep Patil was a great cricketer, his career and accolades were undisputedly lesser than Dhoni. Yet under Patil’s coaching, the Kenyan cricket team reached the Semifinals of ICC World Cup 2003, lost it to India, but won the hearts of every cricket buff.
At the same time, when somebody as great as Greg Chappell became the coach of the Indian cricket team, what we saw was only a series of losses. To add to the list of examples, let us also consider John Buchanan who never even played an international match, yet was instrumental in Australia’s invincible streak.
Due credit to the players
So to pin all our hopes on mentorship to win big in any cricketing format without due consideration to the combination of team effort and captaincy is probably taking it too far.
When a match is lost or won, it will be unfair to attribute the result of the team to the “legends” who are assigned as mentors and coaches. If the liabilities are usually fastened to the team and the captain, it’s only fair that due credit and appreciation must also go to them.
Bringing in Dhoni’s mentorship may help the squad deal with pressure, which is where they have been lacking, as seen in the knockout matches, but whether it will help India bring the T20 World Cup home is a big question.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)