Dhoni is on the money!

2007 Sep 18 by Suresh Menon

When a young vice captain could have been named under Dravid and groomed to take over, the Board chose not to do so.

Indian selectors are taking it one step at a time, and so far they’ve got that first step right by naming Mahendra Singh Dhoni as India’s captain for the one-day series against Australia and Pakistan. Dhoni, currently the only certainty in all three forms of the game, comes across as a thinking player with a sense of humour. He will need both to survive the bubbling cauldron that is Indian cricket. Wicket keepers have led India in one-day cricket - apart from Rahul Dravid himself who was forced to keep wickets, there was Syed Kirmani who led briefly.

India next play a Test on November 22 (against Pakistan), so there’s plenty of time to decide on the captain. It might be Dhoni himself or one of Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and V V S Laxman, all stop-gap arrangements. If Dhoni leads, he will have three former captains under him, and that cannot be comfortable. Of course, everybody will say the right things, like how it is wonderful to have so much experience at his command; but the reality is, the young captain can be out on a limb.

Soon after Mohammed Azharuddin took over as captain, he had three former captains, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri playing under him, and it was never comfortable. But that is the price he had to pay - as Dhoni has to pay now - for the short-sightedness of the cricket Board. When a young vice captain could have been named under Dravid and groomed to take over, the Board chose not to do so. Poor Azharuddin had, at one point, to watch Kapil and Vengsarkar (now chairman of selectors) bicker on the field of play during a Test in New Zealand.

So how do you deal with so many senior players under you? I asked Tiger Pataudi this question many years ago. When he took over, he was the junior-most member of the side. “I focused on the youngsters,” he told me. “The seniors are always going to hold it against you for being passed over, but if you have the backing of the future, you need not worry about the past.”

Indian fans (and the media too, sadly) find it easier to deal in conspiracy theories than to accept a player’s decision at face value. Rahul Dravid is not the first Indian captain to resign. He is, in fact, in good company, for before him Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, Ghulam Ahmed, Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar have all resigned from the post. Some fuss was made at the time, but nothing like the character assassination that Dravid is being subjected to by ‘experts’ whose knowledge of history seldom goes beyond the last series played.

The same experts who have been making a ruckus over the inadvisability of splitting the captaincy between one-dayers and Tests (and telling us that just because it worked in Australia it need not work in India) also forget that in the 1980s, India had two captains. Sunil Gavaskar led in Tests while Kapil Dev led in the one-dayers.

At 26, Dhoni is no spring chicken. And if he impresses during the one-day series, there is no reason to go back to any of the former captains for a holding operation.