IT WASN’T a question of if but when MS Dhoni would get asked about his future. After all, that’s pretty much been the theme of every press conference he’s attended so far in 2016. There aren’t many either who don’t seem to have an opinion about the raging issue or feel compelled to offer it on platforms both public and private. Except the man in question of course.
But on the eve of the Indian team’s departure to Zimbabwe, it wasn’t his retirement that Dhoni had to talk about. And as a result no journalist was called on to the podium or asked to divulge information about his family members. No, none of the media personnel present seemed keen on looking that far ahead. It was more a query pertaining to his immediate—and likely—future, fuelled of course by comments made by till-recently team director, Ravi Shastri, last week. Shastri had opined in an interview to a TV channel that it was time for the selectors to consider Test skipper Virat Kohli as the leader across all formats, and let Dhoni ‘enjoy himself and enjoy the game’. So was Dhoni ready to doff the long-held reins of Indian cricket—in coloured clothing anyway—and continue as a regular member of the team at 35 to enjoy the game?
Pat came the reply. “It’s not like I’m not enjoying the game.” As far as the real query was concerned though, Dhoni as always wasn’t too keen on giving much away. If anything he insisted that his future, at least in terms of his captaincy, lay in the hands of the selectors, or that he was happy to leave it to them.
“It is a decision that will be taken by BCCI and I can’t decide on that,” he said. Luckily for Dhoni, there was another part to the question. It had to do with what he was looking forward to from the Zimbabwe trip. And he quickly scaled past his future speculation and asked the questioner to go and translate the answer he had given to a similar query earlier during the press conference in English.
A ‘different experience’ is how he had described the tour earlier. Sure it will feel different to him, considering the bevy of greenhorns that will board the Emirates flight with him to Harare on Wednesday morning. It was more a question of motivation. About what Dhoni is looking forward to from leading a second-string side to face a team that is presently ranked 11th in the world in 50-over—having been beaten resoundingly in its two ODI series by Afghanistan—and 12th in T20s, behind the Netherlands. Six players from the squad that takes on Zimbabwe in three ODIs and three T20s will be expected to make their first appearance in India colours.
“The reason (for it being different) being that you keep playing with almost the same group of players. So you almost know the roles and responsibilities and what each player’s strengths are. There will be quite a few players in this bilateral series with whom I’ll be playing for the first time,” said Dhoni.
It’s incidentally a position that Dhoni the captain has found himself in already this year. For a major part of his reign, he’s always been a leader who’s thrived on having a sort of control over his resources, or at least being aware at all times of what each one of them brings to his table—who bowls in the death, who is his finisher for example. Often it looked like he wasn’t having a blast with his job during the IPL. Rarely does captaincy seem a chore to Dhoni. But having to lead the Rising Pune Supergiants, which unlike Chennai Super Kings wasn’t filled to the brim with players that fit into the Dhoni scheme of things in the shortest format, he was left clutching at straws in trying to find the ‘right combination’. As Pune slumped to defeat after defeat, Dhoni only kept sounding crabbier while explaining the causes for them. Mostly he spoke about not having a core group or an arsenal which could fire the way he wants them to.
Zimbabwe will be another similar experience, though the stakes will obviously be different. Unlike with the Pune franchise, there’s a bigger motivation on offer for his players in Harare, a chance to represent their nation and make their mark on the big stage. But like he did over the last month-and-a-half, Dhoni’s primary job will be to ‘assess his player’s strengths’ like he put it and building a unit that he can trust.
Dhoni did admit that though he’s seen many of them during the IPL, it wasn’t a fair enough indicator to make judgements about them before he works with them in Zimbabwe. “It will be exciting to see them on the field, most of them are very good fielders so that’ll be good. For India, it is different. The guys will try to prove themselves, show what talent they’ve got to show at the international level,” he explained.
As far as Dhoni is concerned, with India not expected to play more than a handful of limited-over matches post Zimbabwe this year, he might get away with not having to either speculate or react to speculation on his overall future in the game on too many more occasions, especially if that decision is taken away from his hands.
‘Coach should understand culture’
India’s next cricket coach should have a clear understanding of the country’s diverse culture, limited-overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said on Tuesday. India have been without a full-time coach since Ravi Shastri’s two-year tenure as team director ended earlier this year.
“We do not face much problem with communication,” Dhoni said. “With the players coming in these days, English I don’t think is a big barrier. There are also other players who take the initiative to help anybody in the team who does not understand. What’s important is what the team require. We need to select the best that is available,” said Dhoni.
“A number of international coaches have a problem with the amount of cricket that we play in a year keeping in mind the family commitments and other factors,” Dhoni said. “One of the most important thing I believe is he should understand our culture. More than the language, one who understands our upbringing and culture will be better with us,” he added. —PTI