Monday December 16, 2019
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For Dhoni, age has different connotations

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Dhoni
Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Wikimedia Commons

By Veturi Srivatsa

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, from time to time, sends across messages to national selectors, his own teammates and to fans through a prying media.

Ever since he quit Test cricket, the one question he is frequently confronted is when will he be quitting the other two formats. After the World Cup, he was asked again about his retirement plans. His answer was a crisp one liner:

“I am 33, I’m still running and I am still fit, next year (at the World T20) will be the right time to decide if I should play World Cup 2019.”

For good measure, like all sportspersons, he says he plays for the enjoyment of the game and the day he decides to go, “I will pack my bags and happily go away”.

After Mustafizur Rahman damaged Dhoni’s and India team’s reputation with back-to-back fifers, the question of his retirement cropped up again and this time he turned melodramatic, stating that by removing him the team was expected to do well and if he was the reason for the down slide of Indian cricket he would step down.

“I was never really in line to become a captain. It was a job or responsibility for me. I have taken that responsibility. If they want to take it away, I am happy to give it away.”

Then came the ODI series in Australia and India lost 1-4 despite scoring 300-plus scores in four of the five matches and 295 in the other, but the T20 sweep gave him a new life and the team suddenly looked world-beaters. Their potential to win the T20 World Cup can be seen from the way Dhoni moulded a team with some outstanding fielders.

So, the upcoming World T20 is more important to him than, perhaps, the team. If India win, he might say he would like to take one match at a time, one series after another for the next three years!

Dhoni is not one to miss out on a trick. He quickly decided to quit Test cricket midway through a series in Australia, as he had hinted a year ago about giving up one of the three punishing formats. After seeing Virat Kohli’s imaginative and aggressive captaincy in Tests down under, people did not see beyond the World Cup.

The World Cup revived Dhoni’s fortunes. His team remained unbeaten till they lost to Australia in the semi-finals. They bowled out all their seven opponents till their exit game to set a record.

There was another hiccup when India lost the ODI series in Bangladesh for the first time last year and soon after South Africa got the better of Dhoni’s side here at home. There was another round of Dhoni bashing. The selectors, however, backed him and made sure there were no other media plants about him being replaced by announcing that he would remain captain till the T20 World Cup.

He has a knack of speaking his mind out and his messages are taken seriously, too, by one and all. He is accused of getting rid of seniors, barring Sachin Tendulkar, from the team — first as One-Day captain and then from the Test squad. Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman felt aggrieved at the way the message was sent across.

The much-maligned Greg Chappell noticed a spark in Dhoni and marked him down as a future captain one year before he actually took over as captain of the shorter formats and he went on to win the inaugural T20.

Five months after winning the T20 championship in South Africa, Dhoni’s next move was to weed out seniors from the ODI side, though a couple of them returned to the side briefly before bowing out.

After winning his first major title he said he would prefer daring players willing to stand in front of a moving truck. After winning the Commonwealth Bank ODI series, his tone was a little more assertive. He said he was pretty clear about the players he wanted in the squad, a statement even Ganguly did not make publicly. He was roundly criticised as selectoral deliberations were leaked, making him out a villain.

He told the youngsters he had fought for then that they must perform to vindicate his belief in them. After winning the series, he rubbed it in, asking the media why the team selection was no longer an issue, wondering what would have happened if they had not won!

If Dhoni thought Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly would be liabilities in the Twenty20 field, he now finds age is only a number when it came to Ashish Nehra, 36, Harbhajan Singh, 35, and Yuvraj Singh, who at 34 is as old as Dhoni himself, as key figures in his scheme of things for the World T20 in India next month.

For pundits, at one point of time Dhoni was a cool, thinking captain and after defeats in a couple of series overseas he was a mere mannequin in an unmarketable garment superstore.

Dhoni is not the first captain to be sacked by media or former players and will not be the last. The board and the selectors backed captains for strange reasons, but now on the selection committee will be the sole authority as the president may not have the power to overrule it. (IANS)

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Adversity of Test cricket

This truly reflects the effect that the limited-overs cricket has had on the game.

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Cricketer playing cricket
A cricketer in all white kit is ready to hit the ball coming his way. Pixabay

BY YAJURVINDRA SINGH

India are in the driving seat as regards the path to qualify for the World Test Championship final to be held in England in 2021. This trophy has a significant place in the history of cricket as this will be the first time that a Test team will be anointed and recognized as the World Champion.

The recent series victory against Bangladesh has put India way ahead in the points table. With a two-match series each, away from home against New Zealand and Australia and a five-Test match series at home versus England, India look like a certainty to be playing the final at Lords. Being the number one side at present, India looks very confident in all the departments of the game. A victorious Indian side puts a smile not only on the faces of millions of their followers but also on the faces of the sponsors whose commercial investment revolves around the success and failure of the Indian team.

Finally, world cricket did make space in their calendar for Test cricket. India hosted Bangladesh, whereas Australia and New Zealand are playing Pakistan and England respectively. West Indies too had an encounter with Afghanistan in Lucknow and the West Indian side won the match handsomely.

The one major factor which has stood out prominently in most matches has been the lack of quality and skills of many of the sides playing Test cricket. Apart from the big four — India, Australia, England and New Zealand — the cricket in the rest of the world has gone down to an abysmal level. The records in the last few years have shown that most of the matches have finished in four days or less. This truly reflects the effect that the limited-overs cricket has had on the game.

cricket ground
This image shows a cricket ground, where cricketers are playing. Pixabay

The batsmen all over the world seem to be at sea and they somehow also lack the patience to confront the conditions that prevail while playing proper cricket. One may blame the mind-set of a present cricketer in a fast-moving world, but one can also see a definite deterioration in the way they play and approach the game. The true recognition of a player is only through his performance in the conventional form of the game and that is Test cricket.

Cricketers do recognise this fact as their ultimate desire is to be successful at it. That is why one is surprised as to how the quality and standard of Test encounters have had such a steep decline.

This is the very reason that Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Steve Smith, Joe Root and Babar Azam are put a notch above the rest. A good recent example of a cricketer being finally given his stripes was that of Rohit Sharma. His success as a Test opener gave a sigh of relief to his fans and followers as they can now with pride finally eulogize him. David Warner has done the same for his fans in Australia after his return to Test cricket and these two exciting batsmen are now branded as a part of the elite lot as well.

The recent Day/Night Test match in Kolkata between India and Bangladesh was a rousing success. The crowds were lured into the ground and with Sourav Ganguly, the present BCCI President, leaving no stone unturned, he was instrumental in creating just the right aura to glamourize Test cricket in his home town.

Unfortunately, the Bangladesh team did not have the fire power to match the strong, studded Indian outfit and so the match became a one-sided affair. The experimental pink ball did have a bit of exciting tale as regards its behaviour because of the change in conditions during the course of the match. The misty evening atmosphere, as one gathers, did have an issue as regards sighting the ball clearly at dusk. This is an area that requires to be taken seriously as the modern day batsman seems to somehow lack the basic skills of evading bouncers.

Cricketer with his Cricket bat
This image portray’s an animated version of a cricketer holding his bat. Pixabay

This still bewilders me as during our playing days with the fastest of the bowlers bowling not only in the match but also in the nets, sans helmet, very few of us ever got hit smack on the head the way one has seen in the last two decades. The concussion replacement rule is a joke and the quicker the ICC cricket committee erases it from their rule book, the better it will be for Test cricket. The skills and abilities of two cricketers can never be compared and so replacing one for the other is quite ridiculous.

The recent results of Test matches are showing how teams and individuals have lost the plot playing it. The bowlers are having a field day bowling to batsmen who seem to lack the technique and patience to play either pace, swing or spin, in even slightly helpful conditions for the bowler.

Sunil Gavaskar has repeatedly spoken on air as to how batsmen should give the first hour to the bowlers and then the rest of the hours will automatically belong to the batsman. But, unfortunately, not many have paid heed to his advice. This reminds one of the famous quote, “that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing field of Eton” by the Duke of Wellington after England won the war against Napoleon’s French army. The reason he said that was, because of the English quality of education that had made his men into good brave soldiers.

ALSO READ: Playing Sports Linked with Lower Mental Health Issues: Study

Test teams are losing matches because their cricketers lack the character, quality and the capability to fight against all odds. A weak soldier or a cricketer may survive battles, but to win the war or a Test series, present cricketers need to become outstanding soldiers. Only then will they be able to withstand the hard knocks of Test cricket and be victorious.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer). (IANS)