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The Making of an Untimely Career Break

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When MS Dhoni took over the captaincy of the Indian cricket team, it seemed as if he could do nothing wrong. From his innovative and intriguing way of skippering, to his matter-of-fact explanations in post-match presentations and press conferences, he was in vogue with everyone wanting more of him.

But, somehow all of this positivity started to change. His captaincy, especially in tests, started to become unimaginative eventually forcing him to not just quit as the skipper, but also retire from the format with immediate effect. And there’s been the transformation of his no-nonsense post-match talks into passive-aggressiveness the likes of which that have developed a chronology of their own, extending to the ongoing IPL as well.

Unlike his erstwhile team, the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) that seldom failed in any of its eight years in the IPL, the Rising Pune Super Giants (RPS) has been floundering. And while the team’s weaknesses have been exposed one match after another, Dhoni’s calmness has also begun waning.

His antsiness about his team’s performance is understandable. But what’s not appealing is his way of talking about their inconsistencies. Passing the buck on to his team-mates regardless of what his own showing may have been on a given day, and coming up with bizarre explanations to justify unforeseen developments – calling Kevin Pietersen’s on-field injury a ‘blessing in disguise’ – have all become tried-and-tested methods for Dhoni to describe his team’s poor showing. To add insult to injury is then his manner of holding himself separate in all of these explanations, as he were a blameless outsider instead of the man leading the team.

 

The effects of Dhoni’s behaviour have then been dual. On one hand, there’s been increased introspection on the manner of his captaincy and on the other, comparisons between him and other IPL team skippers have started to be made. Between these two aspects too, there’s certain correlation. As the team has continued on its downward trend, Dhoni’s talks have become all the more surly and unwelcoming that in turn has led to more equating with his fellow captains, namely Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli.

Of these two names, while Gambhir making a comeback to the Indian national team remains adjourned, it’s the latter comparison – between Dhoni and Kohli – that holds a lot of relevance. Not just in the IPL, but also in terms of the Indian national squad.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) helmed by Kohli isn’t doing that great either in the tournament, nor does it have a rich legacy in any of its previous eight editions. But since Kohli’s joined the team, irrespective of its performances, neither has he cast-off nor has he disparaged any of his team members. This contrast between the two players has then led to a clamouring to have Kohli take over as the captain of the Indian cricket team, not unlike in the days of Dhoni’s latter days of insipid test captaincy.

In a downside to this last line of thought, it could be said that wanting Kohli to become the Indian captain may be an extension of going with the flow of his recent successes, both in international cricket, and the IPL. But even when trying to assert so, it’s impossible to ignore the isolated entity Dhoni’s slowly beginning to be.

At the inaugural World T20 in 2007, Dhoni seemed like the go-getter. He was the guy who took, what appeared at face-value, implausible decisions that turned to be match-winners. He was the complete team player, who ensured that his team-mates were given every opportunity to do what they thought would get the team results. However, the lot that has changed has come along the way of his transition from a leader to the finisher, the only man capable of helping the team win.

This was visible in the way he treated media personnel at the recently concluded World T20. First by insulting an Indian journalist by terming him to be ‘unhappy’ for asking a question about the net run-rate after India’s win against Bangladesh in the Super 10 and then by inviting an Australian journalist on to the stage to make an ill-intended mockery of his question about his retirement.

Doing this at the IPL may be impossible for Dhoni, but in a way the tournament has been his second coming. It’s been through the IPL that the 34-year old held on to more hearts than as the captain of the Indian team. And given the way, things have started to shift; it might be that that the 2016 IPL may see the break of Dhoni’s career as cricketdom knows it.



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