The Sword of Damocles hangs precariously over Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s head. Will he play the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, or will he not?
Announcing the ODI squad for Sri Lanka recently, chief of selectors MSK Prasad said that Dhoni could no longer take his place in the Indian team for granted. When asked if he would be considered for the World Cup in 2019, Prasad said, “If he is delivering, why not? If he is not, we will look at alternatives.”
Fair enough. But could Prasad have handled the issue with a little more sensitivity?
While Dhoni has made it clear that he would like to end his career with the World Cup, the chief of selectors has put him on ‘notice’, telling him in no uncertain terms to either perform or to perish.
‘Mister Cricket’, Mike Hussey said last week that Dhoni knows when to call it quits. “One of the fittest players in the squad — and one who knows what he is capable of — if he decides that he will play the World Cup, he will,” said Hussey. “If he can’t contribute to India’s cause, he won’t be there.”
A legend of the game by any criteria, Dhoni has scored more than 15,500 runs and has picked 735 victims behind the stumps in all formats of the game. He has the amazing batting average of 51.32 in ODIs — sixth best in world cricket and second only to Virat Kohli’s 54.68 amongst Indians. Kohli, by the way, has played 107 fewer ODIs.
The above figures are all the more mind-boggling from the point of view that cricket in India, during the last decade, was dominated by players like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and of course, Sachin Tendulkar.
The chief of selectors has already shilly-shallied by not taking a call on Yuvraj Singh’s career. ‘Yuvi’ has slowed down considerably in the field and no longer bowls what Kevin Pietersen once called ‘pie-chuckers’. His explosive batting has come off now and again but not as consistently as in the past. When Prasad was asked if Yuvraj Singh had been dropped, he replied, “No, he has been rested.”
Sources close to the Indian team now disclose that Yuvraj Singh — along with Suresh Raina — failed the agility test, and was therefore ‘dropped’ from the squad that will play Sri Lanka in the coming week. This revelation puts the chief of selectors in a spot.
Prasad is known to have had a rather unsuccessful stint as India’s wicketkeeper-batsman, having played only six Tests and 31 ODIs. His colleagues in the selection committee have had even lesser experience of top-class cricket. It isn’t necessary, nor is it being implied here, that lack of experience in international cricket hinders talent-hunting or mentoring. But Prasad and company could perhaps do with brushing up of their man-management skills and communications, and adding a bit of sensitivity into their dealings.
There was no reason, as stated earlier, for the chief of selectors to go public with Dhoni’s supposedly precarious position in the team. He could easily have had a quiet word with the star player, explained to him the circumstances and then told the media that the legend would take a call on his career, depending on form and performance in the matches leading on to the World Cup 2019. It was that simple!
This could also have been done with Yuvraj Singh before dropping him like a hot potato. He too has rendered yeoman service to the Indian team, especially in the shorter formats.
Prasad seems to have forgotten the basic rules of ‘reprimand’ in the announcements that he made to the media the other day. His statements could, in all probability, lead to resentment from the star ‘keeper-batsman. As Sophocles said, “No one likes the man who brings bad news.” Furthermore, while he is a part of the Indian team in Sri Lanka, and other matches in future, if picked, the juniors will look upon him as a player ‘on trial’. Is this the right situation for a legend to be in?
Views on Dhoni’s worth in the Indian team have already been expressed, in no uncertain terms, by skipper Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri. Technically, he is even now the best ‘keeper in the land and is a more than handy batsman to have at number six in limited overs cricket. Of course, his inputs as former skipper — and a wicketkeeper at that — are invaluable to the team management.
The chief of selectors, the coach and the skipper should therefore have taken advantage of Dhoni’s presence in the team, and worked out an ‘unofficial agreement’ to work together. He could easily have been the ‘leader without a title’. This relationship could have done wonders for the team, based on mutual trust. Also, this would be viewed as a positive event by the team as a whole.
Despite a decade of outstanding performances, and having led the country to wins in all formats of the game, Dhoni would have his own anxieties as he prepares to hang up his cricketing boots. He is no god. A conversation would constantly be going on in his head of what the future holds for him. Prasad and Shastri would therefore have done well to help him convert that conversation — a monologue — into a dialogue and also help him address his angst.
Isn’t that what teamwork is all about?
As Prasad, the chief of selectors rightly points out, the whole of India is a stakeholder in the country’s cricketing incursions. It is therefore necessary that the entire Indian team, inclusive of the selectors, the coach, the skipper, the players and the support staff work in one direction. With one goal!
That direction, that goal, in the present context is to win the World Cup of 2019.
If Dhoni, for any reason, doesn’t look like going the distance and his contribution in the build-up to the World Cup isn’t substantial, he should be given the choice of stepping down gracefully. Prasad can surely do a player of that calibre that favour.
Legends don’t die; they fade away. Don’t they?
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. He is a former fast bowler, sports administrator and at present, a mental toughness trainer