On May 28, 2013, a day before the Indian unit departed for England to take on the best of the teams in the one-day circuit, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was lambasted for his silence during a press conference, in which dicey questions — pertaining to misdemeanours in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League (IPL) — were thrown his way by a set of curious journalists. A few demanded that it was imperative for Dhoni to answer, for he was at the helm. Others said they were voicing the opinion of the public and urged him to respond. He was even asked why his wife was seen beside a small-time Bollywood actor, who was later booked for betting, during an IPL game. Fortunately, the media manager for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) padded up for Dhoni and played the inquisitions down with a straight bat.
There is a reason for stating all of the above. It throws light on the puddle of mess the Indian skipper was in before leaving for one of the most important tournaments in the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) calendar. His franchise, the Chennai Super Kings, was on the verge of being expunged from the league. His connections were looked upon with suspicion and many expected an answer as to why one of India’s frontline bowlers, one Dhoni had banked upon in the recent past, had resorted to shady dealings. It was assumed that he had answers to all that was creating ruckus in Indian cricket.
Yet, that calm, unruffled demeanour and the mandatory grin had accompanied him to the press conference that day. It appeared as though he’d just returned from leading India to a 5-0 victory against a tough opponent overseas. There wasn’t an ounce of worry on his clean-shaven face. He smiled whenever an inflammable question was hurled his way; albeit it, understandably, irked many a journalist at the time. However, he answered every query concerning the Champions Trophy with usual vigour and clarity. From dealing with the new One-Day Internatioal (ODI) rules to practice matches and pitches at Cardiff and Birmingham, Dhoni had it mapped and spoke assertively on the same. This fact, though, went easily unnoticed in all the commotion. Cricket was put on the backburner. What the media looked to extract was a response pertaining not to the game, but its dirty underbelly. To an extent, they were right. Someone in a position of authority had to take a stand and none were willingly coming forward. But even if Dhoni had decided to answer then, would it alleviate the pain caused and cover any wounds? The answer, I’m afraid, is highly unlikely.
As Dhoni’s men went about winning two of their practice games, both in emphatic style, under the cloudy English sky, the mood turned sombre in India, again. Another can of worms had been opened, that of the skipper’s association with Rhiti sports — a sports marketing firm — and the apparent conflict of interest it generated. This issue, one expected, would be the final nail in Team India’s coffin, one that’s sure to derail the unit, for it had already been through a lot before boarding the getaway flight to England. However, even this failed to perturb Dhoni. Perhaps an invisible cloak shielded him from it all and he, from the helm, in turn shielded his entourage from the distractions. In press gatherings, he spoke about how he was glad of being in England, and the benefits of avoiding newspapers.
Despite the mounting conundrums, Dhoni and his troops gave undivided attention to the task in hand. They registered crushing victories over South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan, and made one wonder if it was the same team, one that was beset with difficulties before the commencement of the tournament, that took the field. A new set of openers pummelled the opposition, the middle-order flourished and the bowlers rose to the occasion, and the team emerged as arguably the best fielding unit in the world. It wasn’t, like some had predicted, one of the worst teams to have left the Indian shores. A side, with an average age of 26, played the finest brand of cricket in testing conditions. For this, Dhoni deserves credit. His ability to circumvent himself, and his men, from energy-sapping issues, is indeed praiseworthy.
Whether the off-field events did affect him remains unknown. If it did, his professional adeptness in not letting it spill over while taking the field is evident. The semi-final against Sri Lanka was a cakewalk, but in the rain-curtailed final against a first-rate opposition like England, India held their nerve during key moments to come out unscathed. Dhoni was collected enough to ring the right changes and do just that. It speaks volumes of his composure. If there is one man after Steve Waugh who deserves the tag ‘Iceman’, it’s Dhoni. Of course, he will have a plethora of questions to answer and explanations to give to the powers that be.
Sooner than later, pending issues will have to be addressed, for brushing them under a carpet, like it so often happens after a big achievement, should not be considered an option. The time for it, though, will have to be appropriate.
Regina Brett, author and columnist for The Plain Dealer, rightly stated: “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up”. It’s heart-warming to say that Dhoni and his troop did just that. As a young team, they went to England, they saw, and they conquered, despite the worries that threatened to disorient them prior to the departure. Yet, they fought through it all. This side is of a different make, led by an incredible captain, one who has, as of June 24, 2013, bagged all coveted trophies on offer.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )