By Abhilasha Khaitan
After almost two years of failure, it was concluded that MS Dhoni can no longer do any right and was declared replaceable. Back-up plans were furiously discussed on street corners and, of course, on Twitter. But then, one stellar innings later, he could do little wrong. The commentary box labels swiftly changed from Captain Fool to Captain Cool, his fortunes having oscillated to the tune of his bat and the mood of the nation in just a few hours. He was no longer, and I cringe as I write this, ‘match ka mujrim’.
Luckily for him, Dhoni is battle-hardened. He takes neither criticism nor praise seriously. He has learnt that tomorrow is always another day, another headline.
Indian cricket has never really operated with clinical detachment. This is known. We are not culturally equipped to be dispassionate about success or defeat and respond to both with equal fervour. Just as achievement has an exaggerated, disproportionate fall-out for the team (and its celebrated individuals), failure triggers an even sillier response. More often than not, neither is good for the game.
It is obvious to anyone who wants to see it – Indian cricket has turned into a bonafide comedy of errors, with less laughs and more smirks as we go along. Logic and sense are of little concern as experts react in the same knee-jerk fashion as fans.
More than anything else, this is visible in our obsession with individuals – whether the team wins or loses. Most recently, and not for the first time, this has manifested in the captaincy conundrum involving two key players in the team – Dhoni and Virat Kohli.
India’s downslide has prompted calls for Kohli to assume the mantle, and they have been getting louder in recent times with former skippers like Sunil Gavaskar suggesting that he has the skill and temperament to be the new leader.
Now this is not new. Every avatar of cricketing brilliance in the country – consider Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag – has been seen as the next messiah. Batting/bowling success has usually been confused with leadership potential leading to either loss of form in the player or discontent in the team. What better example of this than Tendulkar who, though a genius, was never meant to lead because his expectation from the team was clouded by his exacting standards from himself. He had to give it up but not before he had tasted bitter failure.
The better player is not always the better leader but that bit of old-world wisdom is lost upon us as we look for ways to anoint the latest big talent with the biggest prize we feel we can offer. So it is with Kohli. I believe it would be a tremendous disservice and gamble to burden him before his time has come and his batting (and temperament) has assumed the consistency and maturity that only time and experience can give.
We’ve taken sledging lessons from Down Under (and none more than Kohli). Now let’s learn the art of appointing captains from the Australians. I find there is so much method in their lack of madness. They don’t do a knee-jerk, whimsical selection based on current form and popularity. It is a well thought-out, planned process where the candidates are earmarked, groomed and readied for the big job. Michael Clarke went from raucous ‘pup’ to Skipper Marvelous not in a tempestuous moment but after years of conditioning and preparing for leadership.
Dravid’s farewell early in 2012 and Tendulkar’s recent retirement from one-day cricket cannot be the only steps taken towards building for the future. The exit of a great has been a quick-fix to give the appearance of change but scratch the surface and everything will look the same. It is almost inevitable that we’ll soon create another Tendulkar. The fans’ desire to channelize and redirect hero-worship is strong, as is the BCCI’s need for a new poster boy. And this is where no 13 can be (un)lucky for someone.
Let’s accept that Dhoni, though always a contender if he chooses to be, has little desire to be anyone’s crutch or champion. In any case, he is clearly no longer the blue-eyed boy of the establishment, despite innings such as the one he played on Sunday. The halo effect will wear off soon and it’ll take just another major failure for the axe to fall.
As it stands, based on current form and popularity charts, Kohli appears to be the prime candidate for the job. It is an undeniable honour to be the face of the country’s foremost sport. But it comes with an implicit warning – that it is easy to be a hero but to do the superhero act for the next decade is a different ballgame. Like I said, Dhoni knows better. His likely successor would do well to learn quickly too.