In the line of fire again

Cricket : Despite the series loss to Bangladesh, Dhoni is the best man to lead the team in shorter versions

In the line of fire again

A few days ago, a national television news channel made a pathetic attempt at putting Mahendra Singh Dhoni down while comparing him with Test skipper Virat Kohli. The comparisons were so frivolous that you couldn’t help but squirm in your couch.

Sample just one of them: Kohli’s better than Dhoni because the former speaks his mind while the latter doesn’t. What is it that Dhoni has been mum about? He was silent on questions regarding the IPL spot-fixing scandal in 2013. And why is Kohli more forthcoming with answers? He acknowledged his relationship with Anushka Sharma openly. We didn’t know this disclosure was a matter of great importance to the health of Indian cricket. Thank you so much!

Now, it is no secret that there has been a well-orchestrated attempt to oust Dhoni after N Srinivasan was sidelined from the BCCI affairs for all practical purposes. Stories are planted and facts are twisted to suit the prescribed tales. A former selector, who was quite happy to pocket his handsome salary while ‘compromising’ Indian cricket’s well-being, has suddenly found voice to air his views against the Dhoni-Srinivasan ‘nexus’, three years after he left the job.

A series defeat against Bangladesh, though hurtful, is enough to sow seeds of dissent in the dressing room. A statement by Kohli on lacking in decision-making was a just criticism of Dhoni’s captaincy and not at all in contravention to the team spirit but the same people went hammer and tongs about the Jharkhandi’s remark with regard to the supposed ‘unrest’ in the dressing room during the Brisbane Test against Australia late last year.

The incident pertained to Shikhar Dhawan not resuming the innings after hurting his right hand during a morning practice session that forced Kohli to pad up at a short notice. Once the current Test skipper was dismissed early, he allegedly picked up an argument with Dhawan.

Dhoni was then accused of making a dressing-room incident public because he used the word ‘unrest’ to describe the situation in the camp at that particular moment. “He (Dhawan) took a blow, but we thought he was good enough to bat but he was not. As you saw he went into bat late. That kind of a scenario, there is a bit of unrest in the dressing room. The calmness of the dressing room goes for a toss. It was a bit late to verbally resolve the problem.” These were the exact words used by Dhoni then.

For all his free-flowing chat, Dhoni’s hold over English is limited and it’s quite possible that he used the word unrest to suggest confusion. For example, Dhoni was asked about India’s turnaround in the World Cup (this question was asked after India’s win over West Indies in Perth) by a journalist of Indian origin from Singapore and the question was roughly framed thus. “What do you think is the reason behind the resurgence of India (in the World Cup), who couldn’t even buy a win in the tri-series (preceding the World Cup)?” Dhoni promptly shot back: “You can’t buy a match but you have given a nice angle with this ‘buy aspect’ to write stories about, especially for the Indian media!”

You can’t, though, accuse Kohli of lacking command over English -- he is the most articulate of Indian cricketers. So, take your pick. 

A series loss for India, the second ranked team in ODIs, at the hands of Bangladesh, then ranked eighth in the world, is disappointing to say the least. While a healthy criticism of the team is always welcome, it shouldn’t degenerate into slander. One should also be gracious enough to acknowledge the fact that the opposition has improved to be a worthy winner. Who expected India to bring the mighty West Indies down to earth to claim their maiden World Cup in 1983? Not even after they had beaten Clive Lloyd’s side once in a bilateral series in the Caribbean just before the quadrennial event.

Long before India were handed their first series defeat, Bangladesh had shown a steady rise in stature. They had made it to their maiden World Cup quarterfinals before losing to India, while they humbled Pakistan 3-0 soon after at home. While it’s no consolation for the defeat, there is no harm in acknowledging the superiority of the opponents.

At a time when traditional cricketing powerhouse like West Indies are struggling to keep afloat, we should in fact be celebrating the success of Bangladesh, who have got perhaps the most passionate fans in the world, India included.

The truth is India were made to look worse than they are and the 1-2 loss, the first for an Indian captain against Bangladesh, should in no way define Dhoni’s legacy. If that’s so, then Ricky Ponting should forever be remembered for presiding over three Ashes defeats than his two World Cup and as many Champions Trophy titles. Not to forget the Ashes triumphs and the conquest of India in the 2004 series though he played only in the Mumbai Test.

No captain in the world, including that illustrious line from Australia, has managed to achieve what Dhoni has, and that is winning all the ICC events – World T20 (2007), 50-over World Cup (2011) and Champions Trophy (2013) – and leading the team to the No 1 ranking in Tests.

The overwhelming support that Dhoni has received from former cricketers to continue as the skipper in the shorter version after the 33-year-old offered to step down if he has to, shows that he still has a lot to offer to Indian cricket. And unlike in Tests, where his batting and wicketkeeping in some conditions were a bit suspect, he is easily one of the best batsmen in ODIs and arguably the finest finisher even considering his diminished aura with the bat in recent times.

There is no denying that Dhoni has struggled with the bat in the last one and a half years but that is only because he has set himself such high standards over the years. An average of 47 in 27 matches (846 runs) stretching from January 2014 is enough to guarantee him a place in any side just as a batsman. It’s the second best performance by an Indian batsman behind Kohli, who averages almost 48 in 36 matches (1432 runs) in the same period.

With his more than effective way of keeping wickets, Dhoni is as valuable to the side as Kohli. Captaining and wicketkeeping in all three formats for the last seven years for a team which plays more international cricket (to go with the gruelling IPL) than any other side, has obviously taken a toll on him both physically and mentally. But having retired from Test cricket, the young father will now have enough time to rest and regain his old composure. A calm and assured Dhoni is always an asset for the Indian team.

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