Stuck on the glass door of an ornate cafe, which claims to serve “108” varieties of coffee, is a post-card size poster of the Dharamsala International Film Festival, an annual fixture, this year scheduled from November 3 to 6. The festival, celebrating mostly contemporary parallel movies from across the globe, generally passes off as an uncelebrated affair, with just the connoisseurs hopping up this mountain city to the Tibetan School of Drama in McLeodganj. There’s hardly any local connect.
The buzz, here among movie buffs is the mushrooming multiplexes in the city centre. The choice in movies are limited — there are just three or four screens in most multiplexes and the fare they offer is mostly Bollywood and Punjabi movies (apparently the dubbed version of Tom Hanks’ new release, Inferno, is running houseful).
Like the International Film Festival, the MS Dhoni biopic, too, didn’t find many takers. The ‘untold story’ mostly went unseen, lasting just a week. It’s surprising, considering the fanfare the Indian limited-overs skipper draws at most cricketing venues around the country.
There wasn’t much of a whirr about the real Dhoni in India’s practice session either. There was neither a thronging nor an awkward craning of the necks at the entrance of the caged practice area when he batted. Those were ubiquitous sights wherever and whenever the Indian team practised, not long ago. But on Friday, there were just a few distracted policemen and gun-totting commandos, overseeing the practice just out of duty than any deep sense of fanboy worship.
But suddenly, not even in the wink of an eye, or a micro-second, the entire mood changed dramatically. That was when Virat Kohli strapped on his pads and simpered on to bat. It wasn’t quite like the manic frenzy when Sachin Tendulkar lurched onto the nets, but the sudden convergence of collective gaze at one focal point was surely reminiscent of the spotting of Tendulkar anywhere in the precincts of a stadium, or even outside it. One over-eager policeman even shouted, “Hamaara captain saab aa gaya!”
His ignorance can be pardoned. For he, like many others, might have been only hearing and reading of Kohli’s burgeoning stature as skipper, albeit in a different format. Of his tactical nous, unflustered brand of aggression and the sheer mountain of runs he has been heaping. Or of his hairdos, his crazy fitness routines and diets, of his muscled abs. So no one bothered to correct the policemen or break into a long-winding argument. Kohli is, as far as fanfare is concerned, the new Tendulkar. Or even the new Dhoni.
In a sense, it’s difficult, or even innocuous, to not imagine Kohli as the skipper. Not that Kohli is covetous about it. But for a Test skipper who has won four series on the spin and taken his team to the top of the Test rankings, to suddenly garb the robes of the deputy can feel gruesomely uncomfortable. It can be uncomfortable for the audience as well as the man himself. Even Dhoni, mechanically phlegmatic as he is, might feel the moment a little awkward, despite captaining Kohli for much of the latter’s career. Even cross-format regulars like Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane could feel a touch over-wrought by the moment.
But Dhoni and Kohli didn’t show any awkwardness during training. In fact, they spent considerable time bantering and cracking jokes about Amit Mishra’s receding hairline.
These days watching India play the shorter formats takes some getting used to. One is so accustomed to seeing Kohli command his troops, it takes time to adjust to watching him in the role of a deputy. There is a school of thought which advocates that such is Kohli’s aura that it’s time he’s made the skipper in the limited-over versions as well. Or at the least, he can present a strong case.
Why not Kohli?
It’s not a question of why Dhoni, but why not Kohli? This isn’t saying that Dhoni, as skipper or as a player, is past his use-by-date. Or has become stale. Or that he has over-stayed at the helm. After all, he whitewashed Zimbabwe at home with a second-string side. Semifinal appearance in the T20 World Cup can’t be termed a disaster either. His finishing skills might have diminished, but his stature or fitness or tactical acumen can’t be undermined. If not for the light-year leaps Kohli is presently making, such an argument would have ceased to exist. Or even be entertained.
To put it candidly, not that Dhoni has digressed as captain, only that Kohli has progressed. Given the way he has handled captaincy in Tests, he looks a natural leader and motivator, with fresher ideas and an intrinsically positive approach to it. Hence, there seems to be no reason for Kohli to not displace Dhoni. Given his seamless blending into the long-form responsibilities — which is considered a stronger test of character than ODIs and T20s — one wouldn’t wager against Kohli reprising the results in the shorter forms.
For a while, it was reckoned that Kohli would first take over reins in the shorter formats before eventually graduating to Test captaincy. That’s the general pattern of how captaincy transitions pan out — Dhoni’s career itself being the most glaring example.
It also makes complete sense, in that the nucleus of all three teams is mostly the same. You’d expect the likes of Rohit, Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammad Shami and Kohli himself to fit into most permutations, irrespective of formats. So even if one is weighing in the continuity factor, with the Champions Trophy scheduled next year, it cuts little logic. There won’t be anything like a clash of antithetical ideologies, or a case of progress suddenly shunned before its happy culmination. Kohli will only ensure smooth progress.
Then there is the question of how long Dhoni can continue skippering the side, or even playing for the country. He is 35. Maybe, if one disposes the burden of captaincy, he can prolong his international career. Like it did to several other luminaries, including Kumar Sangakkara. Maybe, the idea is to phase out Dhoni and usher in Kohli after the Champions Trophy?
But why wait till that far. What if India retains the Champions Trophy? Dhoni’s spot becomes stronger, and the whole captaincy conundrum will get further complicated.
The selectors, no doubt, are beset with an unenviable call. How do you ask a World Cup winning skipper to forsake captaincy? Imagine the scandals it will spin. But at the same time, they can’t feign ignorance to Kohli sweeping stakes It’s the proverbial Catch-22. But at the moment, Dhoni’s script seems running like one of those parallel movies screened at the film festival, and Kohli’s like a blockbuster in the multiplexes.