What would MS Dhoni of 2008 tell MS Dhoni of 2018?
Indian cricket had a history when it came to legends and their retirement. All legendary Indian cricketers were given the status of ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ by the selectors. (The Mahabharat character who was bestowed the blessing of living as long as he wanted to).
A drop in their performance notwithstanding, all Indian legends chose when to retire rather than being informed when to.
What made a World Cup winning, long hairdo sporting, small-town belonging Indian captain of 2007-08 special was that he was willing to go against this norm, be unconventional and adamant on changing that existing culture.
“We are all servants of the nation and we are all doing national duty” – were the words of MS Dhoni (as shown in the MS Dhoni movie) when he vouched to drop legendary cricketers like Laxman, Ganguly and Dravid from the Indian squad in 2008 when he was made the ODI captain.
Although he had faced a lot of criticism for that decision, he proved his mettle by winning the ODI series in Australia in 2008 followed by the World Cup win in 2011.
His reasons for dropping senior players, the same players who gave him the chance to perform for the team and make a name for himself, were straightforward: they were not fit enough and did not add much value to the team as they used to once upon a time.
Team India needed young players who were hungry to perform rather than older players who were comfortable in their skins.
10 years later, the clock has ticked. The same young, long hairdo sporting Indian captain has more grey hair than white. The big sixes are disappearing, the last over finishes are evaporating, the ability to attack is diminishing.
At the same time, there is a young, vibrant, Test-centurion wicket-keeper knocking on the door of the selectors. There is another wicket-keeper batsman who has made a name for himself and a place for the team in the middle order. There are two other players who keep for their respective teams in the IPL, but play as pure batsmen for the national team.
At such a stage with the World Cup 2019 inching closer, what then, would be the right choice for the Indian team? Would MS Dhoni of 2008 keep a player like MS Dhoni of 2018 in the team? Would the same MS Dhoni who axed senior pros based on their performance have the guts to axe himself for his own poor performance?
What would the conversation be between ‘MS Dhoni, Captain of 2008’ and ‘MS Dhoni, senior pro of 2018’?
Here’s a hypothetical take on the situation.
Dhoni 08 – I think it is time for you to hang your boots, for you are not the same batsman you were once upon a time. You are not hitting boundaries, consuming a lot of balls and not converting your starts.
Dhoni 18 – I agree I may not be hitting a lot of sixes, but what is more important, hitting sixes or winning matches? Did you forget my performance in the IPL?
Dhoni 08 – Performance in IPL is way different to performance in international cricket. You haven’t won matches or performed with the bat for the Indian team.
Dhoni 18 – Yes but I have a lot of other things to contribute as well. I’m still fit and fine. I run quicker than most Indian players. My wicketkeeping skills are better than any other keeper alive.
Dhoni 08 – But there is a young aggressive wicketkeeper waiting on the bench. He is fearless, gruesome, the next big thing in Indian cricket. It would not be right to drop him out of the team and dent his confidence, for he has just scored a century in England, something that even you hadn’t done.
Dhoni 18 – Well there is no doubt Rishabh is the next Indian long-term wicketkeeper, but don’t you think he needs grooming? Isn’t he naïve? Doesn’t he require more exposure?
Dhoni 08 – He is already playing Tests for India. But we all know he is a far better white ball player. India might need such a player for the World Cup in 2019.
Dhoni 18 – India will also need a senior pro in the team. My calmness, composure, all-round skills will be much required in an ICC tournament. Even you had Sachin in your team for 2 years after the World Cup, just so that there was no lack of experience in a team and the juniors always had someone to speak to and learn from.
Dhoni 08 – You can’t occupy a place just based on merit. You need to prove mettle with your bat as well.
Dhoni 18 – I totally agree to what you are saying. I’m working on my batting harder than ever before. All I can see is the World Cup of 2019. I want to be there and win it for the nation. I know my strengths and weaknesses and will play my role in the team accordingly. My processes are still the same and will never be compromised upon.
Have faith in me. If I think I won’t contribute much to the team I will step down myself. But Virat, Ravi and the team need me. Give me a chance to play more and I will definitely not disappoint you.
Dhoni 08 – Over to you, captain! Get the Cup home and prove your haters wrong, like you have always done!