A day after Mahendra Singh Dhoni called time on his international career, N Srinivasan revealed how he exercised his authority as then BCCI president in 2011-12 to ensure that he was retained as the India captain.
During India’s tour of Australia in 2011-12, following a 0-4 debacle in the Tests, the then selection committee had decided to remove Dhoni from captaincy, without even picking his replacement, for the ensuing ODI tri-series. Srinivasan came to the selection meeting straight from a golf course to thwart the move.
“This was 2011. India had won the World Cup. And (then) in Australia, we didn’t do well in the Tests. So, one of the selectors wanted to remove him (Dhoni) as the ODI captain. The point is, how do you remove him as the ODI captain? He had won the World Cup (just a few months ago). They (selectors) had not even thought of who would be his replacement. There was a discussion and then (before the formal meeting) I said there was no way in which he would not be a player.
“In fact, it was a holiday. I was playing golf. I came back. Sanjay Jagdale was the (BCCI) secretary at that time and he said, ‘Sir, they (selectors) are refusing to choose the captain. They will take him (Dhoni) in the team’. I came and said MS Dhoni (would be the captain). I exercised all my authority as the (BCCI) president,” Srinivasan told The Indian Express.
Former India batsman Mohinder Amarnath, who was a member of the selection panel back then, had spoken about Srinivasan blocking the “unanimous decision” to sack Dhoni as captain. “The Board president did not approve the unanimous decision to replace Mahendra Singh Dhoni,” Amarnath told CNN-IBN in 2012.
As per the old BCCI constitution, team selections needed the Board president’s approval. Lodha reforms have empowered chief selector to take final call on selection matters.
India had won the World Cup under Dhoni’s captaincy in April 2011, but an ageing Test side had suffered clean sweeps in England and Australia in the subsequent season. But Srinivasan didn’t see any logic in removing Dhoni from captaincy based on the team’s results in Tests. And the former BCCI president still backs his judgement.
“See, there was apparently some prejudice somewhere, which reflected. He (Dhoni) has won the World Cup for you. After 1983, India won it again and you say, ‘I don’t want him to be the ODI captain’! Left to them (selectors), they might have (dropped him as a player). I don’t know. I think that was the most unfair (move) and I am glad that I stood my ground,” Srinivasan told this paper.
Srinivasan was instrumental in appointing Dhoni as Chennai Super Kings captain in the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008. Over the years, the former India captain’s bond with Srinivasan and Chennai has strengthened. Following Dhoni’s international retirement, Srinivasan paid a glowing tribute to the great ’keeper-batsman.
“Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an exceptional person, exceptional cricketer and a very, very fair person. I have had the privilege of knowing him, moving with him for over a decade. I have in my lifetime met and seen great cricketers, people who had great cricketing skills. MS is an exception. He only thought of India and the team he played for,” Srinivasan said.
He also recounted past selection meetings and Dhoni’s impartiality and fairness in them.
“I have seen him in selection committee meetings. Whatever view he expressed was logical, to the point and he never showed any prejudice. I think in this aspect he towered over everybody else. I have come across so many people in business life, sporting life, but it will not be easy to equal his equanimity, poise and sense of fair play.”
The ex-BCCI and ICC chief referred to an observation made by legendary leg-spinner Anil Kumble to explain Dhoni’s leadership skills. “On the field, he (Dhoni) was unbeatable. In fact, Anil Kumble summed it when he said – when CSK came back (in the IPL) and there was an auction and everybody criticised the management saying that the team was old – ‘I give the team six out of 10 on paper. On the field, it is close to 10 out of 10 because Dhoni will be leading’. I don’t think any greater tribute can be given to him.”
He added: “He (Dhoni) knows how to get the best out of each player. He does it without fanfare, without publicity.
But everybody wants to play with him. They want to excel, they want to look good in his eyes. He is a hero of every Indian cricketer. Team meetings would last a few minutes, that’s all. He will communicate directly to the players. He will communicate during the game, (or) before the game. His communication to the players was never public.
“He is a natural. Basically, he is not a complicated person. He is a person with great clarity of mind. Any fame will sit lightly on him.” According to Srinivasan, Dhoni played a big part in the explosion of public interest in T20 cricket, including the IPL. “I think that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is one of the reasons for the burst of interest in T20 league cricket, including the IPL. The people of India have embraced T20 cricket and (its) many heroes, but MS Dhoni is special.
“A few months ago, pre-Covid, the (CSK) team assembled here (Chennai) to start practising for the IPL. 15,000 to 20,000 people came to the stadium and chanted, ‘Dhoni, Dhoni, Dhoni’… You don’t see that crowd for a Test match in many places in India. No publicity was given (for practice sessions). People heard he was practising and they came. That is his popularity. He is an icon of India and in Tamil Nadu and Chennai, he is very special.
“I don’t know how the bond between him and Tamil Nadu and Chennai developed. In the early seasons of the IPL, he would come, he would go (out) on his motorbike. People took to him.”
Dhoni will continue as CSK captain in the IPL and the team is aiming for its fourth title. “He can play for CSK as long as he wants. At present, let CSK win the IPL. One of the reasons for CSK’s success under Dhoni is that he never thinks beyond the match. He never gets digressed. And we will follow the same policy now (with regards to Dhoni’s future at CSK after he hangs up his boots),” Srinivasan said.