MS Dhoni’s decision to quit Test cricket and his reluctance to talk about the suddenness of this massive career call has fuelled speculation on his future. Having being bred in a system that lacks transparency, Dhoni’s silence reflects the current state of flux in a leaderless Board of Control for Cricket in India.
Given the fact that Dhoni is India’s most successful captain, he deserved a fitting farewell. After guiding India to a face-saving draw at MCG earlier this week, Dhoni quietly grabbed a stump as a souvenir. He loves collecting souvenirs but to pick one is a drawn match is something Dhoni may have done for the first time in his career. Of course, the 33-year-old knew what he was doing.
At the end of a match fraught with frayed tempers, thanks to streaks of immaturity in vice-captain Virat Kohli, Dhoni exchanged pleasantries with the Aussie players, never for a moment hinting that he had played his last Test match at a historic venue. Unlike Sachin Tendulkar, who chose his home turf Wankhede Stadium to bow out, Dhoni quietly walked into the sunset of a roller-coaster Test career. There were no guard of honour, no standing ovation and no drama. They called it the ‘Mahi Way.’
The Mahi Way was certainly not a happy ending. Former teammates VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly demanded that Dhoni owed his fans an explanation. Yes, his lack of ideas in the longer format of the game often surfaced on overseas tours, but Dhoni still came up with masterstrokes. Having a leg-slip for the dangerous Steven Smith at Melbourne was certainly one of them. The Aussie captain flicked a rank bad ball from Umesh Yadav only to see Ajinkya Rahane take a fine catch.
BCCI announced Dhoni’s retirement through a press release. Secretary Sanjay Patel was extensively quoted by the Press. Patel called Dhoni’s decision “lion-hearted.” “He is not the one who would want a fitting farewell,” Patel said. Whatever the circumstances were, the BCCI failed in its duty to give Dhoni a more graceful exit. It clearly reflected on a cricket Board that for the first time ran without an ‘official’ president.
Patel, by default, is the chief executive officer of the BCCI. So speaking to him was nothing but a formality. Dhoni had obviously made up his mind over a period of time. But did Dhoni speak to N. Srinivasan, the embattled czar of Indian cricket, who stood like a rock behind during Dhoni’s tumultuous times? That’s the million-dollar question.
If Dhoni managed to keep his captaincy intact despite losing eight overseas on-the-trot in 2011-12, it was because Srinivasan trusted the skipper’s abilities more than the selectors. Insiders say Srinivasan has always been Dhoni’s ‘god father.’ The good times started when Srinivasan broke the bank in 2008 to buy Dhoni for his IPL team, Chennai Super Kings. Dhoni was even made vice-president of India Cements, the company that owns CSK. Srinivasan is the Managing Director of India Cements.
In Indian cricket, nothing lasts forever. Power equations change at every level and after the 2013 IPL match-fixing and betting scandal was exposed, pressure on the Srinivasan-Dhoni relationship only grew. To align with an administrator is one of the biggest mistakes that one can commit because stakes and longevity of an athlete and an ambitious official can never match.
Srinivasan has bigger stakes both in India and internationally. Suspended by the Supreme Court for allegations of conflict of interest, Srinivasan has engaged top lawyers to help him win another term as BCCI president. Sans that position, Srinivasan’s position as ICC’s chairman will be ethically untenable.
Dhoni is in the IPL scandal mix too. He has been investigated by the probe committee led by a former High Court judge. Did Dhoni lie under oath by calling Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan a “mere cricket enthusiast” when the probe panel had already indicted him of betting? Did Dhoni lie to please his god-father? Meiyappan was the centerpiece of CSK till 2013.
Chanchal Bhattacharya, Dhoni’s first coach in hometown Ranchi, has reportedly said that his superstar ward was “unhappy with developments in IPL scam and that he was dragged into it.” The distance between Dhoni and Srinivasan certainly grew after the Tamil Nadu businessman played a rather dormant role when the Ravindra Jadeja-James Anderson Trent Bridge Test “Pushgate’ row earlier this year hit the roof with Dhoni strongly defending his CSK teammate. Even after Dhoni pushed BCCI to protest, Anderson happily completed the series that India lost 3-1.
The decision to appoint Ravi Shastri as Team India director for the ODI series in England seemingly didn’t have Dhoni’s approval. An ardent fan of Duncan Fletcher, Dhoni was happy with the Zimbabwean chief coach and didn’t think Shastri’s greater role as director was a necessity. With sketchy protocols in place, there were questions on who was the super boss of the team. To imagine Dhoni taking orders from Shastri is unthinkable. Personality clash was inevitable.
The BCCI’s decision to extend Shastri’s role till World Cup made it amply clear that Dhoni was under supervision. Shastri was the Board’s eye and he had the selectors’ faith. The former all-rounder quickly won the faith of youngsters like Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan. The explosive Kohli’s mindset matched with Shastri’s equally robust wavelengths. For Shastri to say “hell with the scoreline” after India lost the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was saying many things. Dhoni’s keeping mum on rift in the dressing room only added fuel to speculations.
He had the worst record as India Test captain overseas. For Dhoni, the scoreline certainly mattered. He certainly would have wanted to finish his last Test series as captain on a decent note. The series lost, Dhoni took the easiest way out. He chucked the “burden” of complication just as he would dispatch a trademark helicopter shot, whipping off his hips with brute force.
A clear mismatch of mindset, a possible generation gap and then the burden of playing multiple formats finally took its toll on the coolest man in Indian cricket. But what really triggered Dhoni’s Test exit? Will Mahi ever write the script of this untold story one day?
The post was also published on ndtv.com/cricket by the author.