Is ‘Captain Cool’ Ready To Vacate ‘Hot Seat’?
Captaincy in cricket is a bit like playing chess in Harry Potter. It controls the moves overall, but every piece has a mind of its own. The most brilliant strategy will not work if soldiers do not follow, or are incapable of following, orders. But captain is responsible for victory or defeat
India’s tour of Bangladesh was supposed to showcase all its valour and superior strength, which would have paved the way to Ravi Shastri for a long-term contract as Team Director and provided strength to the argument that the two-captain theory is an effective arrangement. The loss to Bangladesh hurts. Of course, it does. But if you seriously thought this day would never come, you don’t understand sport.
India were minnows once too. Former India captain Nari Contractor once said India were christened the “Dull Dogs of Cricket” after losing 5-0 away to England in 1959. A dozen years later, India beat England 1-0 in a three Test series in England. The wheel had turned.
Now, what we have to contend with is a very harsh and bitter reality that Indian cricket has many fault lines which need immediate attention. The one-day defeats have shown the Indian team as a listless bunch of disparate characters, who have ceased to enjoy their cricket.
All losses irk, but some more than the others and this series defeat should hurt the most, especially as it comes against a team which was not supposed to put up even a fight, let alone win with such comprehensive ease.
What could have gone wrong? For starters, maybe overconfidence of a team, which still believed that Bangladesh’s World Cup knock-out qualification was a fluke. It did not factor in Bangladesh’s outstanding recent home record, which included its decimation of Pakistan. In fact, Bangladesh are a side on the up and are playing with greater ferocity and self-belief than ever before. They were on a high after sweeping Pakistan 3-0 at home. They outplayed and outthought India in every department. We should be giving them more credit.
India probably also did not realise that non-stop cricket round the year, that too most of it outside of home, had already sapped their energies. The hi-fi and the celebratory tone of the IPL past two months in the torrid heat of the Indian summer may have registered the reality of players having been drained of their last ounce of energy. And what we saw in the two one-dayers was a manifestation of the symptoms of a disease which periodically surfaces post the IPL, whenever the scheduling is not properly planned and spaced out.
Playing sport at the highest level is both physically and mentally exhausting. Body and mind need time to recover. If they don’t get it, performances will suffer. That is every bit as inevitable as death and taxes.
India may have believed that all these shortcomings can be tapered off against a weak team and they would prevail. Unfortunately for them, Bangladesh are no longer a team that walk on to the ground having already given up. Their self-belief, obviously bolstered by a combination of many positive factors, which include unearthing of many young talented players and a coach who has worked on their mental strength, has made them the team to beat.
Just contrast the energy levels of the two teams on the field. Bangladesh were brimming with not just confidence but also made their presence felt with a display of aggressive enthusiasm that made Indians look like meek minnows up for slaughter.
Here it is worth mentioning that for the longest time, Ravindra Jadeja held the spot, without producing well enough performances with both bat and ball. While Axar Patel playing well but failed to impress as an alternative for the selectors and the team management in the place of ‘Sir’ Jadeja. Is it CSK factor? Abysmal, pathetic, embarrassing—you can take your pick of adjectives to describe Rohit Sharma’s performances, but he is enjoying opportunity after opportunity and Dhoni’s confidence. One thing is for sure, loyalty works, whereas Gautam Gambhir, Virendra Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh’s entry into Indian squad has absolutely been blocked in recent scenario. Is this all because of IPL rivalry?
What these defeats have done has also made us confront another significant issue which we should tackle sooner than later, so that it does not create dual centers of power in the team, a palpable reality in societies that worship hierarchy. In such situations, ego clashes are inevitable, which can scar the psyche of the players and leave the team in disarray. One is referring to India’s experiment with two captains for the two formats, which other teams may have successfully implemented, but in our conditions needs a relook.
Dhoni, who “willingly” gave up Test captaincy in the midst of a test series in Australia, supposedly to focus on one-day cricket, may be searching for his best batting form at the moment but he is too precious a player to be dispensed with. Former India captain Sourav Ganguly said Dhoni’s comments about stepping down were made in the heat of the moment and that we should not take them seriously. “He was upset after the defeat. Leave it there. Everybody has to sit together and think. Don’t put MS Dhoni down, he has a terrific record in One Dayers. Give respect to him.”
Ganguly is right insofar as everyone needs to sit together and have a chat and that Dhoni’s record has earned him the benefit of the doubt. But Dhoni isn’t indispensable. Eventually, all captains are replaced. If Dhoni is feeling the pressure, and if there is a difference between the way the team wants to play and the way he wants the team to play, it might be wise to step aside and let Kohli take over. That would give Kohli plenty of time before the 2019 World Cup to get the team to play his way.
Dhoni’s form has also been trending downwards over the last two and a half years perhaps a lessening of responsibilities would revitalise Dhoni’s batting and keeping. He would still be around to offer Kohli advice, much as Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid did for him after he took over as Test Captain. But in the circumstances the Indian team finds itself placed today, where
Dhoni himself was forced to say that he would quit as captain if it helps, maybe time has come for him to do exactly that.
(All pix courtesy: www.espncricinfo.com)
By Sanjay K Bissoyi