Sunday, November 2, 2008

DHONI THE DON: DESTINY'S DESIGN?


Anil Kumble, India's highest wicket taker and Test team captain, resigned from Test cricket today. The indomitable fighter and gentleman of unimpeachable integrity and quiet dignity, bowled his last ball for India after making the sudden decision which was announced towards the end of the day's play in the Test match at Delhi. An injury to his left hand a couple of days back while trying to take a difficult catch was the final signal to him that he had played his part and that it was time to leave the stage.

616 wickets in 131 Tests, 337 One Day wickets from 271 matches, over 2500 Test runs and even a Test century. This is an awesome record that places Anil Kumble in the league of the all-time greats of Indian cricket like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar. Captaincy, which had eluded him for no real reason for most his long career, also came to him befittingly at the fag end after Dravid suddenly quit the job in the wake of the World Cup disaster.

However, when he did become captain, not even he would have known that his reign would be so short, and that perhaps destiny had a design to make Dhoni the undisputed king of Indian cricket in a hurry.

Within hours of Kumble announcing his retirement, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was appointed the captain of the Indian Test team. He is now the captain of the team in all the three versions of the game. He is also the captain of the IPL Chennai Super Kings Team. K Srikkanth who is from Chennai has just taken over as Chairman of Selectors. In short, Dhoni is now the undisputed boss of Indian cricket. In fact it would not be wrong to call him the 'don' because of the kind of unchallenged power he has. And this even before leading an Indian team in a Test match as a full fledged captain.

It all started for Dhoni when the big three of Indian cricket, Sachin, Saurav and Dravid decided to skip the inaugural T20 World Cup. On Sachin's suggestion Dhoni was appointed the captain of that team. No one then gave India even an outside chance to win that tournament considering the disaster that had recently struck India in the One Day World Cup and the fact it was a young, untested team without the big guns. And then, the unbelievable happened. India won that cup. Dhoni's stature instantly shot through the roof and he was appointed the One Day captain too. Was there a choice?

Even in those early days, Dhoni had started calling the shots with some arrogance. He dropped an in form Ganguly and did not play the picked Sehwag in the Tri Series in Australia. India won that tournament too. That set him up as the only claimant for the job of the Test captain after Kumble. In fact, an increasing number of voices started demanding that Kumble should retire immediately and make way for him.

Kumble, however, had no such retirement plans. But he did not know that the wheels of destiny were working overtime to push Dhoni up and him out.

Virender Sehwag was at one time India's vice captain and had looked certain to take over as captain in time. But fate had something else in store. He suddenly lost form and and had an extended lean run, resulting in him first losing his vice captaincy and then his place in the team. Yuvraj was another talented player who flirted with captaincy similarly but his inability to convert his awesome talent into performance saw that prize rightfully slip away from him.

Sehwag did get back his form and his destructive match winning ways. But, fatefully, that happened only after Dhoni had, as captain, won the T20 World Cup and the One Day series in Australia. So while his place in the team is now secure and he is well on his way to joining the ranks of the great players of the world, captaincy is out of question at this point of time.

In the ongoing India-Australis Test series, Kumble had to miss the second Test at Mohali because of an old shoulder injury. Amit Mishra replaced him and took five wickets on debut, increasing pressure on Kumble to make way for him. Dhoni captained the team and India beat the Aussies by the biggest margin ever in terms of runs. The man with midas touch had done it again, as Kumble watched from the dressing room.

In the Delhi Test, when India posted a mammoth score of 613 for 7 declared in the first innings, India looked set for a big win, Kumble leading the team well and looking good enough to continue captaining India for another series or two. But, fate intervened again. India's fielding suddenly turned sloppy and, thanks to three dropped catches, Australia posted a total of 577, snuffing out all chances of a once certain Indian win.

But, not taking willing to take chances, destiny had Kumble trying to take difficult catch to injure his left hand in the process, necessitating 11 stitches. That injury did Kumble in completely. Although he returned to the field to bowl and take three wickets, it was clear that he would not be fit for the next match at Nagpur. It would be Dhoni captaining the team there, once again.

Two personal setbacks in quick succession in conjunction with the success of his successor succeeded in making Kumble see that his track had reached its end station. And the never-say-die warrior quickly laid down his arms with great dignity and without any rancour, to get a rousing send off, fittingly from the venue where he had taken all ten wickets in an innings against Pakistan. And who carried him on his shoulders for the last time at the Kotla? Yes, the man on whose shoulders the fortunes of team India now lie.

Destiny's hand appears to be playing an almost visible hand in the rise and rise of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Indian cricket. Destiny got his ball rolling by asking the Big Three to skip the T20 World Cup; destiny has now literally pushed Kumble to make way for him to become the very powerful 'don' of Indian cricket, without a challenger in sight.

India has gone from strength to strength under Dhoni's leadership, notching up win after win. Does it mean that the future of India's cricket is safe and bright in his hands? Or is this that peak before the big fall? Whatever it might be, if past events are any guide, there is little doubt that destiny will continue to show its hand as it has till now.