India's culture of worship has to end

Last Updated: Mon, Jul 08, 2019 10:48 hrs
virat kohli

Every time the Indian team fails to win, questions are asked of Dhoni. Usually, Kohli steps in to ask the critics to keep their opinions to themselves.

Every time the Indian team averts a loss, too, questions are asked of Dhoni. Usually, Kohli steps in to ask the critics to keep their opinions to themselves.

To defend Dhoni and his own stance, Kohli points out that his predecessor in captaincy has had a stellar career.

Yes, but hasn’t the stellar fizzled out of it a couple of years ago?

If Dhoni had retired from one-day cricket some years ago, perhaps soon after he did from test cricket, he would have left behind a legacy that was no less than it is now – he would have led India to a world cup win, hit the winning runs no less; he would have had a better average, and not many fewer games; he would have enjoyed a longer career than most cricketers; he would have had a lucrative future with advertising endorsements and T20 leagues.

What kept him on in the team, other than Kohli’s support? The desire for another world cup win, perhaps.

The idea of a world cup win has prolonged many careers – but most of those who overstay their welcome in a team on the merit of their past achievements have never won a world cup in their lives.

Dhoni did, eight years ago.

And now, his captain and coach continue to remain in denial. Sanjay Bangar has told the media he is surprised people are criticising Dhoni’s inclusion after every match in which he fails. Kohli, as is typical, snaps every time he is asked the question.

One wonders why Indian cricketers in particular are loathe to leave when they ought, and give younger players a chance.

Sachin Tendulkar dragged on his career at least two years longer than was warranted. He, too, had the steadfast support of his then-captain, Dhoni.

In all fairness, Tendulkar was a key player in his last world cup. He was the second highest run-scorer. He steered the Indian team to the final. He was carried around the grounds by his teammates, and one expected he would retire at the peak of his glory.

He stayed on, setting his records and finishing as he wanted to – a career that lasted a quarter of a century, a record number of fifties and centuries, his two-hundredth match, his home ground, and an hour-long speech for when he bade farewell to the game.

Dhoni has never made a secret of his hero-worship of Tendulkar. And so it was that Laxman was not allowed to overcome a few final failures; Dravid and Ganguly found no place in a new-look one-day side; Yuvraj Singh was let go when he was considered dispensable. But Tendulkar could stay for as long as he wanted, because he had done so much over the years. The friendship between Dhoni and Kohli is something of a bromance. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t affect on-field decisions. But there have been multiple occasions in the last few years, and particularly the last few months, when Kohli would have been entirely justified in choosing to look beyond Dhoni.

Kohli has always depended on Dhoni to review umpires’ decisions. Dhoni has never been a fan of the DRS, and so it was that India was among the last teams to use it. India’s choosing not to review the umpire’s rejection of a caught-behind call against Jason Roy did allow England to get off to a spectacular start.

Yes, Dhoni has had a great career. But one must face the fact that players grow old.

They grow old faster in an era when so much cricket is played that they have few chances to rest. The off-season brings with it the Indian Premier League, where each ball is expected to head to the boundary.

The Twenty-20 format has also changed the way the game is played; it has changed the scores that were considered reasonable totals even in 50-over matches, it has ruined batsmen for sluggish wickets.

India has finally found a fast bowler who can be miserly under the most unfavourable circumstances, as Bumrah was in the game against England. But he found an equal opponent in Chris Woakes, who bowled maiden after maiden during India’s chase.

Over the last few years, India has bowled and fielded well enough not to have to chase down mammoth totals, and when they were up against one which overwhelmed them, their captain went on to grumble about the dimensions of the ground.

India is notorious for preparing pitches that suit their players, so it seems rather rich for a player to complain about, of all things, the ground dimensions.

There is a culture of worship in the Indian team – for certain captains, for certain players – which will not allow them to face facts. This is also why a coach who is not a pushover becomes persona non grata in the dressing room.

Dhoni is not the problem, so much as this culture of worship.

And for as long as it continues, select players will be allowed to rest on their laurels, while others will never get a chance to prove themselves.

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Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com