16 July 2011.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni needs to rethink his approach to the game. As captain he is responsible for the conduct and strategies pursued by his team. Cricket’s laws are clear on that point. In other games captains are merely required to maintain morale. Cricketers spend most of their time on the field so the captain is altogether more influential.
When India rises, as it did in the recent World Cup, Dhoni is rightly praised. When India falters, as it did in the Caribbean, he deserves censure. His team is the strongest in the world and sets the benchmark. India can take the game high or low.
Alas, Dhoni has twice let the game down in recent weeks. His decision to abandon its chase in the final Test match was as bewildering as it was timid and selfish. No consideration was given to the millions of viewers staying up into the early hours to support their team. No heed was taken of the paying public. No thoughts turned to the perilous position of Test cricket in general and in the Caribbean in particular.
Praveen Kumar Bowling
Photo ©: Chubby Chandru / Flickr.com
Instead India offered only craven excuses for a chase reluctantly undertaken and abandoned at the first sign of trouble. India gave up with two magnificent practitioners at the crease and hard-hitting batsmen waiting in the wings.
Nor was the target daunting. Nowadays a run a ball is regarded as a cinch. Admittedly the pitch was grudging and different rules apply in Test cricket but India could not have lost.
The bleats about protecting the 1-0 can be treated with the scorn they deserve. Dhoni’s mistake was to remain in the pavilion. He has so often led from the front, but this time held back. India urgently needed him to set the tone.
His team was full of youngsters trying to retain their places and an old guard included towards conservatism. Both understand the importance of statistics. Cricket is an insecure game. Neither party was inclined to take risks, not with their leader remaining in his tent.
Another tale might have been told had Dhoni batted at first wicket down. Then his players might have responded. Then the field might have been pushed back and the bowlers put under pressure. Then skills honed in the IPL might have been applied. Then television viewers might have been hooked. India had nothing to lose, except its reputation. Happily the Indian press and public did to hide its dismay.
Dhoni’s other mistake
Dhoni’s other mistake was to tolerate his team’s insulting conduct towards Daryl Harper. His observation that the finish of the first Test was delayed only by bad umpiring was arrogant and rude. Likewise the response to the banning of Praveen Kumar for repeatedly running on the pitch and Amit Mishra’s prolonged sulk after his dismissal showed the team in poor light. It’s high time the captain was called to account. Otherwise all except devotees will soon become disillusioned.
Harper is a good man and an accident-prone umpire. Regardless, he was duly appointed by the game’s governing body and ought to have been treated with respect. Moreover he could not seek assistance from replays because India had rejected the DRS.
He deserved better than the barely concealed derision of players prepared to forgive their own mistakes but not his. He deserved better than the sycophantic coverage provided in some quarters.
Dhoni is a better man than he has seemed in these episodes. By and large his team has served cricket well, and its maestros are universally admired.
However, conduct of this sort is damaging. Champions are supposed to express the best of the game, not the worst.