Tuesday, July 8, 2008

DHONI NEEDS A LONG BREAK

The irony could not have been more telling. The Asia Cup Final in Karachi saw the Sri Lankan innings being powered by the ‘old man’ of international cricket, Sanath Jaisurya, while the response of exciting youth brigade preferred by Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was not good enough once again.

This is the second time in a row that the brat brigade has choked in the final. That is what happened to them against Pakistan in Dhaka too. Earlier, when India had beaten the Aussies in the One Day series in Australia, I had written that the it was not the youngsters but the veterans led by Sachin Tendulkar who got India to victory. Obviously, Dhoni does not want to learn. He continues to stubbornly insist on keeping the likes of Sourav Ganguly out, clearly for reasons other than cricket.

And, the excuse to keep Ganguly out is the same that was trotted out ad nauseum by Greg Chappell when he was India’s coach: he wants to pick a team for the future. Who has seen the future? Has anybody ever played in the future? Who is accountable for losing the tournaments you are playing today for the vague promises of victories tomorrow? This nonsense about giving a “chance” to youngsters at the expense of team performance needs to stop. Dhoni and others may not be comfortable in the towering presence of Sourav Ganguly in the team. But that cannot be reason enough to ignore him.

Let Dhoni and the selectors put their hands on their hearts and say honestly that the like of Uthappa, Raina or even Yuvraj are better One Day players than Sourav Ganguly is today, on current form. While 39 year old Jaisurya is continuing to blast all misplaced notions of youth over experience, just like he did during the IPL, our selectors are ignoring Ganguly and offering him a ‘farewell’ series! On current form, he is as good as Sachin Tendulkar in the One Day format of the game. Also, as he showed during the latter half of the IPL, Sourav has mentally sorted out the challenges and requirements of the T20 format too. Those in doubt are heading for a big surprise in the next IPL tournament.

The IPL has affected the psyche of many players, including the highest paid captain of the Chennai Super Kings, Dhoni. After the glitz, glamour and moolah of IPL, the youthful and tough Dhoni is finding it difficult to keep himself motivated to play for his country in old fashioned tournaments. During the Asia Cup, he moaned that too much cricket was being played and that it was difficult to continue to play so many games. What he probably meant to say was that too much of ‘under paid’ cricket was difficult to play and that if there was no solid smell of money, it was not possible for him to focus on the game!

The old and bald Sanath Jaisurya does not seem to be suffering from any match fatigue whatsoever. Nor are other players who have been and are playing as much cricket as Dhoni. Is Dhoni’s complaint really about physical fatigue or is it something else altogether?

Reacting to Dhoni’s wish to take time off cricket, the BCCI has rested him for the upcoming Test Series in Sri Lanka. Not the One Day Series. Notice something here? The captain of the Test team is Anil Kumble. Perhaps India’s One Day and T20 captain does not want to play under another captain at all any longer. That too in a team where he has to rub shoulders with the senior players, the big guns, that he has summarily discarded from the teams that he leads. So, this talk of fatigue due to too much cricket is little more than political positioning, in addition to the money factor. This also indicates that, come what may, Dhoni is not going to take Ganguly in his team. Dravid, of course does not stand a chance even otherwise.

It appears that this whole drama of Dhoni avoiding the Test series in Sri Lanka has been orchestrated in sync with the BCCI. Dhoni is the current indispensable mascot of the board. Everyone is again happily going along with a ‘work-in-progress’ team that has lost two back-to-back finals. Dhoni’s policy of trying to divide and destroy Team India, something about which I had warned months back, is being backed to the hilt, just like Chappell’s identical policy was. The results will be disastrous, as is already is evident.

As this is being written comes the news that Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid do not figure in the list of 30 probables picked for the Champions Trophy to be played in Pakistan. No further confirmation is required to prove what I have been saying all along. The BCCI and Dhoni are both more interested in the politics rather than the game of cricket. So focused they ostensibly are on the World Cup that they are willing, even eager, to avoid picking the best available team that can win the Champions Trophy for India.

If the BCCI were really interested in picking a team ‘for the future’, a team for the next World Cup, then they would have looked at more options for the captain's job too. Why have they firmed in on Dhoni as the captain so soon? Why has the idea of Sehwag leading the team no longer being considered? Why is Yuvraj also not being given the job for some matches?

If the BCCI really wants to pick the best team led by the best captain, at least these two players need to be give a meaningful stint as India captain and allowed to choose their teams with the same freedom that Dhoni has been given. With the comparative strategic and tactical abilities of Sehwag, Yuvraj and Dhoni being better assessed on the playing field, the country will finally wind up getting the best possible team combination led by the most capable captain. Equally importantly, it will put and keep in place Dhoni who thinks right now that he is indispensable to the team both as player and as captain.

Dhoni needs a long break. For mental rather than physical reasons, he should not be considered even for the One Day series that follows the Test series. Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel are just waiting for a chance to don the wicket keeper’s gloves. They may well outperform Dhoni as ordinary team members under a different captain. So be it, in the overall interest of the team.

Even when Dhoni does return to the One Day team subsequently, it should not be straightaway as captain. It will do him and Team India a world of good to have him concentrate on his individual performance and place in the team. There is no point in having a dysfunctionally divisive captain with a bloated ego trying to be some sort of a ‘mentor’ to chosen youngsters at the cost of the performance of the team.