Saturday , March 02, 2013 at 10 : 37
For once, let it be said, there was nothing morale-boosting about the Man-of-the-Match award MS Dhoni received. R Ashwin was the other obvious candidate, but you expected a spinner to take ten-plus wickets on a dustbowl of a pitch at Chepauk. It becomes a little exaggerated when you consider that Ravindra Jadeja struggled whenever he tried to move away from his wicket-to-wicket line, or how Harbhajan Singh struggled in the first innings and Nathan Lyon struggled throughout the match. Ashwin out-bowled his peers and Dhoni out-batted his, with fine centuries from Michael Clarke and Virat Kohli.
However, this isn't about a petty trophy and plastic money that is distributed in unceremonious presentation after every single match with a particular commentator howling at his very best. This is about identifying a true-moment-in-the-sun for a fine cricketer, one who has received quite a fair bit of flak in the recent times.
Those two words, fine and flak, should draw attention in no particular order. There cannot be any denial about the credentials of Dhoni the cricketer. Perhaps he is not as great a Test batsman and his keeping skills overseas in seaming conditions have been under the radar. But, today the definitions have changed. He is a modern-day poster-boy of a player who fits seamlessly into the wicketkeeper-batsman role in three different formats of the game.
After the England Test series loss, in two limited-overs encounters with the returning English and Pakistan, he showed amply well why he is indispensable in the shorter formats. There was a school of thought that suggested crowning Virat Kohli as the T20I captain. But as long as Dhoni continues to play that format, it will be on him to step down, for there are none equal therein to lead the side in T20s or ODIs.
Alternately that has adversely affected his standing as Test captain. In the first few years of his reign, things were hunky-dory for Indian cricket as a whole was in ascendancy. The legends were still playing, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were in fine form, and Zaheer Khan-Harbhajan Singh were taking wickets. India became number one, yet did anyone care to notice his captaincy style then?
'Success has many fathers, defeat is an orphan' is a very famous saying, and it holds particularly true for Indian cricket captains. Ever since there were stakes involved in this game, from the time Tiger Pataudi and Ajit Wadekar started ringing in the wins, to Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar stirring up the cash pots, until Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid brought in their own mix of styles to usher in the golden decade. Dhoni has suffered what each of them did, perhaps a tad more, and yet survived.
In victory, Dhoni was the lead star of a soap opera that had no villains, only heroes that charmed the nation and brought home the trophy desired by millions for two decades. When things went south thereafter, and big time, he had the biggest target painted on his back. This is the wont of Indian captaincy, and it has been so for ages. 'I will not give up captaincy, it would be cowardly to walk away when things are bad', he had said after India lost the Kolkata Test to England.
It was a brave quote, no two ways about that. But the bottom-line is, he needed to be sacked after that loss. India needed a new Test captain. He would have been sacked much earlier, if the selectors had shown some gall and stood their ground against corrupt higher powers, instead of garnering television TRPs six months down the line. That drama should have taken place in January, or even September, and not in December. That it didn't wasn't Dhoni's fault.
If anything, it made him dourer. It led him to believe that a new course must now be charted in order to haul Indian cricket out of its own muddle. His answer to that riddle was pushing himself up the order, to number six, and boy has it worked!
When he played Jadeja in the last two Tests, against England and then against Australia, there was an added onus on him to score runs, both for the number six and seven batsman. He acknowledged Jadeja's deficiencies with the bat and that this tactic might not work overseas, where the bowling-all-rounder might stand exposed. Yet, Dhoni isn't looking that far ahead. He needs to win this Test series. India needs to win this Test series. That's all that matters.
And so, this is a man who is fighting, swimming against the tide wherein four bowlers aren't sufficient anymore to take twenty wickets. If Pragyan Ojha has to take the fall for it, so be it. In raging waters, Dhoni is pulling Indian cricket by the collar, along with him. That double hundred, scored in just a tad over two sessions, has perhaps already sucker-punched Michael Clarke's team into submission. He is doing his bit, with the resources available, as long as he is in-charge.
'I will keep it for myself.'
This was Dhoni's answer, in the post-match press conference at Chennai, when asked if he wanted to dedicate this double hundred to anyone. And truth be told, in more ways than one, it would have been a travesty if he had answered otherwise.