Why is Dhoni scared of change?

2014 Aug 27 by Suresh Menon

There seem to be no clear lines of authority. From Dhoni's statement, one presumes that Shastri is the overseer, Fletcher the boss - and Dhoni himself the super boss.

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By Suresh Menon

Not everybody welcomes change. An uncle of mine is over 75 years old, has lived in the same house in the same city for nearly 30 years, likes to do things in a certain way, and would be terrified of change. That is understandable. But when the captain of the Indian cricket team shows the same traits – unwillingness to change, an allergy to new ideas in planning or approach and displays a reluctance to move out of his comfort zone while actually sounding smug about it, then that is unforgiveable.

After the personnel changes in the backroom, and while Ravi Shastri has been quoted as saying that he “is boss”, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has gone on record to say that Duncan Fletcher is still “boss” and that he will remain in charge till the World Cup next year. Further, he has confirmed, “Operations remain the same.”

There are two things disturbing about that. One, technically, it is not Dhoni’s place to decide who is boss and who will remain in the job till when. That is the BCCI’s call. More disturbing is the smugness that is implied in the statement, “operations will remain the same.” It is as if he is saying men may come and men may go but we will practice and play the way we want to.

Only the losing team thinks that winning and losing are not important, only how you play the game is. But even by that reckoning, India lose twice over because how they have been playing the game following the Lord’s win has been pathetic.

Why is Dhoni so scared of change? That is hardly the attitude expected of a captain with a reputation (however undeserved) for thinking out of the box. Or of someone who is just 33 years old. If operations remain the same, there might be comfort in the familiar, but unfortunately what is familiar is also the unending defeats abroad.

Back in 1971, when Vijay Merchant, chairman of selectors used his casting vote to remove Tiger Pataudi as captain and give the job to Ajit Wadekar, he justified it thus: “I handled it like you would a company that is not doing well. You sack the CEO. Indian cricket hasn’t been doing well. So I sacked the captain.”

A new captain, fresh blood, a new attitude took India to series victories in West Indies and England. Things have changed in the four decades since then. The last selector to express dissent and suggest a change in captain, Mohinder Amarnath, lost his job.

India have been doing so badly that something has to give. Sometimes even a change for the sake of a change is welcome if it shakes up a moribund system. And that is why Dhoni saying that operations will remain the same is quite depressing.

Indian cricket is at a crossroads – and not just because of the England performance. At some point in the near future, Justice Mukul Mudgal will present a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court, and the findings of his committee into the spot fixing allegations in the IPL will shake up things. Will Gurunathan Meiyappan’s bluff be called – or will he be revealed as a team owner who gambled on his knowledge as an insider? If that happens, where will it leave Dhoni who told the Commission clearly that Meiyappan was only an enthusiast?

The Commission is looking into allegations made against 13 people, players and administrators, and if the Supreme Court gets into a cleansing mode, how many heads will roll?

Suddenly, individual opinions on who is boss, who should be the fielding coach and so on will cease to matter.

Meanwhile, in England, Dhoni has said that “Ravi Shastri will look into everything.” Perhaps he will. But how will the players take all this. Whom do they go to if it is assumed that players go to someone in the staff when they have a problem. The number of cooks attempting to make broth in the Indian team’s kitchen suggests that the exercise will go the way such exercises do.

There seem to be no clear lines of authority. From Dhoni’s statement, one presumes that Shastri is the overseer, Fletcher the boss – and Dhoni himself the super boss. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be the best deal for Indian cricket, however well these men may get along with one another. Professionalism demands there is no confusion, no grey areas.

"It's a bit tough on Trevor Penney [fielding coach] and Joe Dawson [bowling coach],” Dhoni went on to say. “Especially when fielders drop catches and the fielding coach has to miss the series. But let’s hope for the best.”

That is hardly the language of a leader. It sounds more like the whine of a child who has had his favourite toy taken away from him.