Is our fearful trip done? That is what the poet wrote long ago. But for Indian cricket, the fearful trip has just begun and it promises to outlast its stipulated quota of time if our bosses keep dawdling over petty matters in sham conferences, leaving urgent matters at hand open to the vagaries of the market-driven world! The grave danger lurking at the doorsteps of Indian cricket needs to be stemmed right now, or else it may acquire proportions monstrous enough to erode the carefully woven fabric of our national obsession!
The BCCI has fallen prey to realpolitik, that is quintessentially Indian. After several years of shrewdly administered lobbying with various international powers, the BCCI has now garnered enough clout and money to boss the ICC, very emphatically! The last couple of years has seen the ICC magically turning into a benign arm of the cash-studded BCCI, the overwhelming proportion of the BCCI’s riches having come from the Lalit Modi brainchild – Indian Premier League. To some, BCCI is nothing more than a sinecure for doting politicians and to others, it seemingly provides the alibi used by the umpteen faceless figures who run the world of cricket today! That the BCCI has completely turned into a ‘private club consortium’ is amply clear nowadays, judging from the overt operations that it is undertaking nowadays – the complete lack of transparency in the appointment of the selection panel and the abrupt removal of Mohinder Amarnath from a key position in the board just a few weeks ago, elucidate the snobbery with which BCCI is bossing Indian cricket at present.
The biggest evidence that goes to throw some dazzling light on the BCCI’s monarchy is something completely different – it is the astounding strength in the bond that two persons have forged between themselves, and continued ruling the roost in matters pertaining to Indian cricket for the last few years. Yes, I am talking about the everlasting friendship between Narayanaswami Srinivasan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni – the duo that has been at the helm of anything ‘cricket’, ever since they were allowed to take the centre-stage by mostly mindless ‘fans’ of Indian cricket. It would not be a wise option to go into the details of Srinivasan’s rise to supremacy in BCCI, for that would entail a muck-racking experience. Dhoni, though, had a modest climb to power – well facilitated by (1) the team that had been painstakingly constructed by Ganguly, (2) the ephemeral public memory in India, and (3) the lobby that Srinivasan had managed to build once Lalit Modi was forced to flee India, charged with committing horrendous atrocities in Indian cricket.
Having mastered the art of working hands-in-glove with top political stalwarts and bureaucrats, the Srinivasan-led group of honchos slowly assumed absolute authority on Indian cricket. Their tyranny initially bore sweet fruits – India were winning quite a lot of matches and trophies, they even aced the Test rankings for some time and everyone seemed happy. What we failed to notice though, was the quasi-static extension of a kind of bipolar monopoly that was clawing its way into Indian cricket. The selection panel had become a farce all by itself – the team selections for important tournaments bore a bitter tinge of favour and bias. Dhoni had slowly turned into the supremo of all team selection matters, his power ebbed by his godfather Srinivasan. Criticism was widespread – in the media, among the fans and everywhere else; but all those whimpers mattered little. Piyush Chawla continued to be the ‘surprise pick’ for every World Cup, Srinivasan continued to be the ‘legal’ owner of the Chennai Super Kings franchise in the IPL, while Dhoni continued to place an abnormal amount of confidence in selecting under-performing Rohit Sharma for every important match and coldly neglecting bongs like Manoj Tiwary and Ashok Dinda. Yet, the results did favour India for some time and they even managed to win the prestigious World Cup last year, playing under conditions tailor-made for an emphatic Indian victory.
But, as they say, the ‘golden period’ for Indian cricket did not last too long, and neither did Dhoni’s luck continue to smile blissfully forever. India toured England and Australia, played 8 tests and lost all of them embarrassingly! The Test rankings went for a toss, the World Cup glory vanished into thin air; all that mattered now was the ignominy which England and Australia had heaped upon the reigning ‘World Champions’. That Dhoni’s defensive captaincy tactics and mysterious team selections had done severe damage to Indian cricket, was now clear – but, to nobody’s surprise, Dhoni’s patron and his cronies never raised a finger at all these misgivings! Forget about raising a finger, the national board never bothered to attach any importance to the criticism that Dhoni’s captaincy was facing. That meant that India were to suffer further – they failed to make it to the finals of the CB series, which they had won handsomely 3 years ago, they lost to Bangladesh and failed to qualify for the final of the Asia Cup and lastly, failed to make ‘any’ impact on the unbiased viewers in the 2012 T20 World Cup. On all these occasions, the team selection had been devoid of good logic and the captain had failed to carry out his duties ‘effectively’ on many occasions. Let me now carry out my duty effectively and clarify the reasons for which I have launched this tirade against Dhoni. Yes, there needs to be a change of heads for Indian cricket now. Why? Let’s get to the point, then.
(1) The man who had once burst on to world cricket with his own ‘brand’ of swashbuckling cricket, ably aided by his Samson mane, is now only a shadow of his former self. Ever since Dhoni’s arrival in Indian cricket, everybody knew that his batting would make up for the flaws in his wicket-keeping. That consideration is all but proved correct now. For an ‘attacking’ middle order batsman to have a T20 strike rate of 111.07, and a Test average dipping well below 35, defies logic. Yet, cricket pundits around the world continue to brand him as a dangerous batsman in the Indian batting line-up! ODIs remain his forte, but he continues to hold sway over every format in cricket. Isn’t that piling up the agony for the embattled Indian team? A non-performing ‘asset’ bossing over the rest! Expecting the man who has failed to make any impact whatsoever on Test cricket to run a national team, is mere tomfoolery.
(2) What can be said about a captain who prefers to be with his team only during ‘official’ cricket matches and remains behind closed doors for the rest of the year? Such idiosyncratic Dhoni-giri may sound maverick, but it has only helped aggravate the woes of the team that is frequently down on morale nowadays. Not only team members, but also the national selectors have complained about Dhoni’s nonchalance. Seniors like Dravid and Laxman, while announcing their retirements, had ruefully commented on the communication gap between the team and the captain. In spite of all this, Dhoni’s avid admirers continue to shower blandishments on him and helping him retain his captaincy!
(3) One of the most vital jobs of a captain is to groom youngsters for the future, and Dhoni’s credentials in this aspect also fail to impress his critics. Think about Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma, Vinay Kumar and R. Ashwin – players whose rise and fall in international cricket have come under the aegis of Dhoni. Except Ashwin, others have already started showing signs of an early burn-out from international cricket and it has been Dhoni’s prerogative for the last couple of years to reserve a few slots for these fading talents. Yet, nothing goes to show that he has achieved an iota of success in honing the talent of these erstwhile ‘stars’.
(4) The single-biggest tyrannical trait in Dhoni’s attitude nowadays is his soured relationship with the seniors. The Dhoni-Sehwag rift is now being played out in the media very frequently, and this schism is actually a microcosm of the gaping divide between the captain and the seniors. Hasn’t this tussle already accounted for tearful farewells of Dravid and Laxman, earlier this year? Dhoni’s deafening silence on issues raised against Tendulkar’s age and fitness speak of his bloated ego, which has only grown worse by the day. Remember how Clarke had defended Ponting when the Australian Cricket Board had gone hammer and tongs at the former captain? Even though we cannot expect the brash Dhoni to have such exemplary behaviour, what we can expect is modesty and cricketing logic, both of which are sadly lacking in our captain.
…… Negatives galore but Dhoni continues to roar ….