Dhoni's decision received with maturity - Sunil Gavaskar Column

2008 Jul 11 by

Dhoni's decision has got the backing of the Selection Committee who have called it a mature one and it marks a change in attitude over the years. Way back in the 70s if a player made himself unavailable to play for the country, he was looked down as a traitor of sorts and got pilloried by everybody.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's decision to rest and not go on India's Test tour of Sri Lanka is a brave one indeed. Not many players would risk the possibility of the replacement making a permanent place while they are away and it speaks volumes of Dhoni's self-confidence that he has opted out. Having said that, it takes a man of real conviction that he is no good if he is mentally and physically unable to give off his 100% to the country's team. There are many instances of players hiding injuries to stay on in the tour party, enjoy the perks of being in the squad and in the last few years we have seen that happening too often to the teams detriment. Not that it has not happened in the past but when a team goes overseas unless the player is going to be available for selection for the first Test or first One Day International he should not be included for it spoils the balance of the team.

Dhoni's decision has got the backing of the Selection Committee who have called it a mature one and it marks a change in attitude over the years. Way back in the 70s if a player made himself unavailable to play for the country, he was looked down as a traitor of sorts and got pilloried by everybody.

'Tiger' Pataudi not making himself available for the tours to West Indies and England in 1971 did not top the popularity list of decisions though a section of the media supported him because they thought that he had been unfairly removed as captain of the team. Tiger played under Wadekar who had replaced him as skipper in the home series against England but when India lost all three Tests of the 1974 tour of England which too he had refused to undertake, Wadekar was dropped as skipper of west zone and retired from Test cricket and Tiger was reappointed captain of the Indian team.

In the late 70s, India had played Test cricket virtually non-stop from September 1978 when it played Pakistan for the first time in 18 years and that was followed with hosting the West Indies team for six Tests and after a months gap the team left for a long tour of England which also included the 1979 World Cup. Within a week of coming off the plane from England the team was playing the first of six Test matches against the Australians and that was to be followed by Pakistanís tour of India of six Tests and a Test against England to mark the golden jubilee of the BCCI. A couple of days later the Indian team was to fly to play a five Test series against the West Indies who dominated world cricket much in the manner that Australia are doing for the last decade or so. The Indian team knew that the Pakistan series was going to drain them physically as well as mentally and so wanted the tour to West Indies postponed by a week or so to be able to recharge their batteries to take on the world champs. It was left to me as the skipper of the team to request the BCCI to postpone the tour and the suggestion was that instead of the four first class matches the team was to play before the first Test, one if not two could be dropped so that the team could leave a week later. It was understandable that the players wanted the first class games to be dropped because these were the most dangerous to play from the physical point of view. Though the West Indies had a truly formidable pace attack in Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft there were several others waiting in the wings to break in to the squad and for them a game against the visiting side was the one where they could show their stuff. Moreover the pitches for these games were not of the same standard as the Test pitches and so were pretty up and down and thus difficult to play on.

In those days there was a rest day in Test matches, so on one such day in the third Test at Kanpur, I approached the then BCCI President and asked if the departure of the team to the Caribbean Isles could be delayed. There was plenty of time since the tour was scheduled for third week of February and I was asking the President in early October. The President flatly refused after I explained the reasons why we wanted a delay in departure and refused to even explore the possibility of delaying the tour by writing to the West Indies Board, and instead said that there were 5000 other players waiting to play for India. If that was the stand then, I told him, that I would not be available for the tour and would be happy to stand down as the captain and player from the next Test. He said that the selection was not his domain but I said that in all fairness the selectors should be informed of my decision conveyed to him. He changed the topic by asking me to eat some lunch and at the selection meeting that took place at the end of that Test to pick the team for the next one, I did inform the selectors and said that there could be a few more who would be unavailable to tour the West Indies if the tour was not delayed by a week at least. They suggested that the BCCI Hon Secretary who is the convenor of the meeting, take it up with the BCCI and that I should concentrate on the cricket, which is exactly what I did. We won that series as well as that against Pakistan but it was tough to keep the concentration going. Since there had been no word from the BCCI about the postponement of the tour to West Indies, as soon as we took an unbeatable lead in the series against Pakistan, I announced that since I was unavailable for the West Indies tour I was resigning as skipper to give the BCCI selectors the chance to give experience to the player taking the team to West Indies.

Predictably there was a huge furore and plenty of criticism including, surprisingly from the guys who were defending Pataudi a few years earlier when he had no reason like physical and mental exhaustion. The reaction to Dhoni's decision looks a lot more mature. They seem to have appreciated Dhoni's honesty in not playing on if he was mentally and physically tired.

By the way, the West Indies cricket board cancelled the 1980 tour after Kapil also pulled out with a knee injury.