It wasn’t the first bouncer Murali Vijay had faced in his three weeks in Australia. And it won’t be the last. But this one that reared at him and he had to duck under in the nets at the Adelaide Oval, had an added sense of surprise about it. Maybe it had more to do with the identity of the person who delivered it.
The bowler in question was in a sleeveless top, his biceps flexed with each stride, and his latest hairdo stood out for stringent scrutiny just like each of his previous ones – this one, for the record, is called the Jarhead. He wasn’t even an official member of the touring pace party. For many, he was not even expected to make it to Australia this summer. But here he was.
And as Vijay regained his stance, he flashed a wry smile at him, but MS Dhoni simply turned around and walked back to his mark.
A new sheriff was in town. Or more like the old one had arrived to take back the reins. And captain Dhoni didn’t really have to dish out a bouncer at his opening batsman to announce his arrival. He had already done so when he nonchalantly walked into the practice area around 15 minutes after the rest of the team had commenced their session on Sunday.
The Indian captain had arrived in Adelaide only 24 hours earlier, and was expected to be still nursing wrist and thumb injuries. But like most things Dhoni, he chose to dispel those fears in rather unexpected fashion: with ball in hand.
The bouncer to Vijay wasn’t the only one he delivered during his 40-minute spell, alongside Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron. He even went around the wicket at the behest of coach Duncan Fletcher and bowled some short-pitched stuff to Cheteshwar Pujara. He then spent the next 10-odd minutes discussing lines and lengths with his lanky pace spearhead, and run-ups with his young tearaway. He then shifted his attention to the clutch of young batsmen, who had just finished their stint in the nets, made witty remarks then padded up. For the next half-hour, he faced the spinners, the pacers and the side-arm without any discernible discomfort. Just like that Dhoni had made a statement, a significant one.
But it would still be surprising if he does captain the team on Tuesday at the Adelaide Oval, just 72 hours post his arrival in the country. While the rest of the squad have spent close to three weeks in the city, acclimatising to the conditions here, Dhoni will literally take guard still nursing jetlag. Then what happens of Wriddhiman Saha, who has been touted to keep wickets in the first Test? Not to forget the much-hyped Test captaincy debut of Virat Kohli, who has been in-charge of the team’s affairs since the team landed here in the last week of November.
To boot, there has been no dearth of speculation over Dhoni’s participation in the series, some hinting him missing all four Tests. According to the board, he was nursing a hairline crack at the base of his right thumb. But that somehow didn’t stop him from donning goalkeeping gloves and staving off shots on target from the spot after an Indian Super League (ISL) game in Chennai.
There has also been conjecture over his lack of reaction to the Supreme Court’s observations over the reports of the Mudgal committee in the IPL fixing matter. From having been alleged to have lied to the committee, to him being one of the 13 individuals in the report. Dhoni has stayed away from the media, almost blissfully ensconced in the background.
To boot there were reports that the selectors were keen on using this tough tour to test Kohli’s captaincy credentials, and hence named him the captain for the first Test. But now, the experiment could well end in anti-climax, if Dhoni were to play.
Dhoni was originally slated to miss the first Test with the BCCI revealing that they didn’t want to risk his thumb, keeping an eye on the lengthy period leading up to the World Cup. He was still scheduled to arrive in the country on December 4, but did so two days later with three to go for the rescheduled opening tussle.
With the status of his opposite number, Michael Clarke, also in the air, with less than 24 hours to go for the first Test, there still remains an ominous shroud of uncertainty over who will walk out for the toss on Tuesday morning. Till a few days ago, it looked certain that it would be Virat Kohli and Brad Haddin. After Saturday, it looked like Clarke might just make it. Dhoni, however, has now added intrigue to the captaincy conundrum by proving himself fit enough to bat and bowl in the nets.
There, though, still remains the question over his role behind the stumps, and the skipper did not don his wicket-keeping gloves in his first run outdoors in Australia this time. Post his batting stint, Dhoni was his usual chipper self. He was involved in lengthy discussions with coach Fletcher, Kohli and Pujara before describing the value of the modern-day thigh-pads to Vijay. That is before he and Kohli left in tandem for the indoor gym at the Oval.
His effervescent foray at the practice session could have a lot of connotations. Was Dhoni trying to signal his intent to regain control of his team? Or was he just there to pep up his troops in the build-up to the enormous test that lies ahead? Like most things Dhoni, only he will have the answer and as he proved on Sunday, there’s always a bouncer up his sleeve.