MS Dhoni (left) and Alastair Cook © Getty Images
Alastair Cook and MS Dhoni come across as very different individuals. However, during the pre-match press conference ahead of the India-England Test series, their replies to the critical queries were remarkably similar. Arunabha Sengupta reports.
Their visages could not have been more distinct.
MS Dhoni, his face stoical, calm, with a tinge of humorous nonchalance. The glare of the media and critics sliding off the placid face. The imperturbability perhaps counterbalanced away from the thousand eyeballs, under the cap, where the hair has turned somewhat prematurely grey.
On the other hand there is Alastair Cook. Large, striking eyes set deep in the sockets, bestowing a look of intensity that almost singes the air as he sits answering questions at the press conference.
Yet at this point of the ebb and flow of fortunes of cricket, there is much in common between the two men.
Both have led their respective countries with unparalleled distinction. Dhoni is already India’s most successful skipper in Test cricket and has a collection of limited-overs trophies whose glitter and number are both unparalleled in Indian cricket’s rather limited brushes with success. Cook has won his country the Ashes, and, more importantly, has had the distinction of pulling off a rare heist in India.
At the moment both these men have their heads placed on unceremonious chopping blocks, with the ring of detractors closing in. The critics are continually underlining their defensive mindsets, putting their accusing fingers into the many gaps that riddle the recent records of their two sides. Not many area verse from bending the pointing fingers to enlarge the holes beyond the dimensions of reality.
And curiously, during the pre-match press conferences, both the stalwarts answered pointed questions in remarkably similar ways.
Cook pointed out that the recent defeat against Sri Lanka had been the result of two bad sessions with the ball, while the performance of his team had been commendable otherwise. He was correct. The result could have as easily been 1-0 in favour of England, given a slight twist of fortune or a change of attitude towards Decision Review System (DRS).
Similarly Dhoni underlined that the young team had played brilliantly in both South Africa and New Zealand, but unfortunately had lost both the series due to certain moments when the necessary luck did not quite come their way. Again, if one remembers impactful moments of play such as Virat Kohli dropping Brendon McCullum at silly mid-on at Wellington, the Indian captain sounds justified as well.
Both the captains came out strongly in defence of their fast bowlers. Cook accepted that nowadays the 30-plus Jimmy Anderson took a while longer to recover from the rigours of international cricket, but stressed that he still ran in at 90 miles per hour when the situation demanded, even after he had bowled more than 20 overs in the innings. Similarly, Dhoni lauded his young pace attack for running in full throttle even on the fourth and fifth days of a gruelling Test match.
Additionally there was healthy respect demonstrated for the other side. While Cook explained that the inexperience of the Indians meant that they were not scarred by the horrors of the past tours, Dhoni remarked that every team underwent lean patches after periods of dominance and there was talent aplenty in the English side to come good at any moment.
Even when quizzed about the relentless criticism the reactions were amazingly alike. Cook stressed on the importance of a captain having a thick skin. Dhoni joked about avoiding television and newspapers before adding that the important thing was to ignore such carping and take the team in the right directions.
The levels of criticism seem to have reached a certain unprecedented threshold, merging the different methods of the two men into one uniform course.
Another significant highlight at the press conferences perhaps took place beyond the glare of the lights, camera and microphones, away from most eyes glued on the captains. Towards the rear of the room sat Michael Atherton, jotting down his notes with a calm smile. His look, as he scribbled meticulously, seemed to sagely suggest, “Been there, done that. In the end it is of no use whatsoever.”
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)