It is 2032. 30-year-old cricketer P K Das has just had a Neuralink surgery where an Artificial Intelligence chip was implanted and connected to his brain. He can now analyse tons of data and make decisions so fast, it feels like intuition. He is hired by the down-on-their luck Guwahati Jaguars IPL team and given a match to captain.
Surprisingly, the Guwahati Jaguars win. So he’s asked to captain another and one more till eventually the unexpected happens: the team that had such a horrendous previous season that it had failed to even qualify for the playoffs, wins IPL 2032. But it isn’t enough as franchise owner Ms. Gohain decides to fire him. She has numbers on her side because Mr. Das has scored only 114 runs in 16 matches at an average of 16. Though he more than made up for his bad batting form with his lightning wicket-keeping and magical captaincy, it isn’t enough.
Fans of Guwahati Jaguars are up in arms against Ms. Gohain calling her a short-sighted, illogical data-slave. But Ms. Gohain rightly points out that she can’t run the franchisee with her heart, but numbers and Mr. Das’ numbers are pathetic. Of course, she cannot see that not all things are quantifiable. If it were, wouldn’t a team that couldn’t make the playoffs winning the championship count for more than any number out there?
As you no doubt have guessed, Mr. Das is none other than Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni who does not need an AI chip to make his mind run – to use a cow-belt Chacha Chowdhury cliché – faster than a computer. And Ms. Gohain is none other than the many short-sighted cricket commentators, sportswriters, and alleged fans who can’t look beyond his batting skills and demand he retire from IPL.
These naysayers have numbers on their side. Dhoni indeed has been in the worst batting form of his life. But is Captain Cool, Mentor, Thala Dhoni, Mahi only a batsman? What about his lightning wicket-keeping, leadership, and superlative captaincy that has seen CSK be the most consistent side in IPL history with 9 finals in 12 seasons and four championship titles?
Isn’t this bickering for his scalp, pure, old-fashioned ageism? As for those older ex-players seeking his scalp, I suspect many are perhaps jealous that this man gets to play for so long despite his bad form with the bat, overlooking his captaincy and keeping.
Next time look at the horizontal rooster of photos shown before every match where a ball or a bat is shown under a person’s image to indicate their specialty. Under Dhoni there’s a glove. He’s foremost a wicketkeeper and that is what he should be judged for, not just his batting. And if you want to be fair, you should remember that he is one of the rarest cricketers ever to have so successfully donned three hats at the same time: batting, wicket-keeping, and captaincy.
Yes, his power with the bat has declined, but his abilities with the glove and captaincy have reached superhuman level. Two great skills are enough in one player. Virat Kohli captains and bats. Eoin Morgan only captains well and his batting has been terrible in 2021 (133 runs in 17 games). Sanju Samson is the most like Dhoni, but his team didn’t reach the final. Thus Dhoni is at par with other successful captains as per his individual performance.
The problem is thus not Dhoni but the rest of us and our unrealistic expectations and colour blindness to an extent that we can only see black and white and not shades of grey. Dhoni blazed his place into the Indian side with his batting blitzkrieg. Hence the rest of us still feel compelled to judge him solely on that even when he has been exceptional beyond just batting.
It is stupid and ageist. To me, these narrow-minded people are like those who sanitize hands regularly while wearing masks below the nose. They only learned the original sanitization message and took it to heart at the expense of all other important information later about protecting oneself from COVID19, especially the one about how the only real protection comes from wearing masks properly.
That is the real problem: people’s inability to think, change, adapt and alter their expectations, their superhuman capacity to take first impressions to their grave, and why perceptions once made is so hard to break despite overwhelming contrary evidence. It is what Carl Jung meant when he said: thinking is hard and that’s why people judge.
That is why a Mahendra Singh Dhoni will suffer. Not because he is a bad cricket player overall, but because the rest of us are bad judges of a player’s worth. Because we have notions about age that are of the last millennium. 40-year-old Roger Federer can win grand slams in a sport that requires greater fitness and agility than cricket but Dhoni can’t just because he can’t hit the ball 100 meters like he used to, even when he can inspire his teammates to give their best and win championships, even after his team is called Dad’s Army for having 6 players above 35.
In the post-match award ceremony after the finals that Chennai Super Kings captained by Dhoni won, 17 different awards were given based on players’ performance in the entire tournament like Emerging Player, Perfect Catch, Super Striker, etc. Players from many different teams won the awards. Perhaps because there is none for best wicketkeeper or captain, M S Dhoni did not win any. However, moments after these puny awards were given away, he came, quietly took the biggest award of them all: the champions trophy and the zen master that he is, quietly gave it to his teammates and stood almost out of frame in the team photo.
Beautiful things don’t demand attention.
Despite winning IPL 2032 for his team, Mr. P K Das is let go by his team based on data. That was just the opportunity that the Imphal Imperials were looking for and he is scooped up by its management and they have not looked back ever since as Mr. Das continues playing well into his late 40s.
In 2032, someone like Dhoni who performs exceedingly in one or two areas of the game will play well into his 40s. The point is: can the rest of us be broad-minded, and analytic enough to let that someone be Dhoni in 2022.
(Satyen K. Bordoloi is a scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. He loves to let his pen roam the intersection of artificial intelligence, consciousness, and quantum mechanics. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)
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