Kolkata: Distinctly unconventional, game-changer, honorary Lieutenant Colonel, icon… Mahendra Singh Dhoni hasn’t played after the 9-10 July World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, but has a glittering chapter in Indian cricket actually come to an end?
Around 24 hours after Sourav Ganguly, newly-elected president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), declared “when I’m around, everybody will be respected” in the context of Dhoni, chief selector M.S.K. Prasad spoke in a manner many probably felt was disrespectful to the smasher of stereotypes.
Do we give credence to Ganguly’s “Champions don’t finish quickly” comment, or weightage only to Prasad’s “Post the World Cup, we are moving on (from Dhoni)… We are focusing on Rishabh Pant… Going ahead with youngsters” assertion?
Is everybody on the same Dhoni page?
The five-man selection committee headed by Prasad has a collective experience of 13 Tests and 31 ODIs, yet it has taken a call to effectively end Dhoni’s awe-inviting career.
But will Prasad and his colleagues (Devang Gandhi, Sarandeep Singh, Jatin Paranjpe and Gagan Khoda) be compelled to review their position? What if Dhoni has an excellent 2020 IPL, for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK), in a T20 World Cup year?
Dhoni will have the final word
ThePrint contacted two well-placed sources, both of whom were convinced that it’s the veteran of 538 international appearances who will have the final word.
One well-placed source, holding a position in the BCCI, took the line that Dhoni “must” play in order to again be eligible for selection. Which, of course, is perfectly in order.
“Look, Dhoni isn’t playing for Jharkhand in the upcoming Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He may now only be seen in the IPL. If so, the 38-year-old would have been off cricket (after the World Cup) for over eight months. That would amount to too long a break from competitive cricket,” he pointed out.
Dhoni retired from the Test format in December 2014 and, for the past five years, has been available exclusively for white-ball cricket. All three formats had been draining his body, even though not playing Test cricket usually makes it exceedingly challenging to retain one’s sharpness.
Many of the biggest performers, once past 35, are in a dilemma on when to call it a day. The heart, mind and body have to be in sync, or else the decision becomes more difficult to cast in stone.
Has Dhoni been trapped in exactly that situation? Is there an endorsements-related angle, which requires him to be a current and not a past India cricketer?
Surely, Brand Dhoni cannot suffer if he retires.
For those perhaps perplexed, Dhoni’s silence is in keeping with the intensely private person that he is.
Somebody who has worked with Dhoni observed: “Perhaps, he is assessing the (Team India) environment… Prasad’s remarks couldn’t have made him comfortable.”
That is an assumption as Dhoni isn’t known to discuss cricket with anybody, except when he’s either in the India blue or the CSK yellow.
Nobody succeeded in trying to read Sachin Tendulkar’s mind during his India days. The exercise will be as futile if one talks of Dhoni.
Team management’s stand
Logically, if Dhoni was through with cricket, he would have made an announcement after India’s exit in the World Cup. So, it seems the fire in his belly hasn’t been extinguished. Then why not clear confusion and end speculation? Also, why give the Prasads an opportunity to sit in judgement?
Head coach Ravi Shastri’s loaded quote to an English daily — “Half the guys commenting on Dhoni can’t even tie their shoelaces. Look at what he has achieved for the country. Why are people in a hurry to see him off?” — has stirred the proverbial pot even more.
As Prasad and his colleagues are the only ones in a “hurry to see him (Dhoni) off”, in a tearing hurry to finish an inspirational era in India’s cricket, nobody else could have been the principal target of Shastri’s heavy-arms fire.
A minor target may have been the ‘club’ of self-designated experts in the media proper and on social media who have made it a habit to attack Dhoni and sing paeans of Pant, not realising that the 22-year-old hasn’t managed a strike-rate of 100.00 in ODIs. Besides, Pant’s strike-rate of a shade over 120.00 in T20Is is far behind most India batsmen.
In fact, Dhoni too has a superior strike-rate to Pant in T20Is, and his ODI strike-rate isn’t far behind the younger wicketkeeper-batsman (difference under 10.00), who has got multiple opportunities higher up in the batting order.
The question being asked is, what is the team management’s stand and where does captain Virat Kohli, who is powerful with a capital P, stand on the Dhoni issue?
Kohli, who has consistently supported Dhoni in public and given the respect due to a phenomenally-successful captain, is apparently waiting for his predecessor to “decide one way or the other”.
“It’s difficult to know one’s mind, but Kohli hasn’t suggested anything other than to give Dhoni the space to make his decision. There’s little to indicate that Kohli and Dhoni discussed anything serious when the latter went to the India dressing room in Ranchi (after the 3-0 Test series win over South Africa),” another well-placed source told ThePrint.
Transition needs to be handled sensitively
During/after the World Cup, Dhoni informed the “appropriate channels” that he wouldn’t be available for the matches against the West Indies in the USA and in the Caribbean. Also, that he will, subsequently, communicate his availability.
Have Dhoni and Prasad had a word with each other since then?
Post the World Cup, which didn’t end in glory for India, Dhoni has (among other commitments) served in Jammu & Kashmir with his 106 Territorial Army Para Regiment.
Till almost the other day, Dhoni put much more on the table than experience and tonnes of calmness, which is required when the captain and best batsman could explode. Has he lost those qualities?
Prasad and his colleagues, who are not doing an honorary job, are expected to invest in the future. No debate there. However, any transition would necessarily have to be handled sensitively.
On reflection, Prasad may himself feel he ought to have chosen his words better when, in a matter of minutes, he reduced Dhoni to the ranks of run-of-the-mill cricketers.