Selection of the Indian squads for Test and limited overs series to the West Indies next month was deferred by a couple of days. This will take place in Mumbai today, and if speculation in the media over the past week is anything to go by should be newsworthy one way or the other.
After India were disappointingly kayoed in the World Cup semi-final, stories — without attribution to COA/BCCI office bearers it must be clarified — have been swirling about how the selectors might react. The two most widely discussed have been about the immediate future of Virat Kohli as captain in limited overs cricket, and former captain M.S. Dhoni’s place in the team.
Both had a modest World Cup by their high standards and this has obviously prompted the speculation.
Support for the country’s players borders on the obsessive among fans. This has a flip side when things don’t got as expected as the same players come under harsh, often impatient and unfair scrutiny.
Debate on the performances and merits — especially on social media — of players who participated in the World Cup has been intense. As seen in recent times, this can influence players and selectors alike. One hopes, however, that delay in picking the team for the West Indies was not because selectors wanted to see which way the wind was blowing, rather to take measured, unemotional decisions.
There are obviously several players under review, particularly in the batting where India suffered because of injuries to a few players and the poor form of some others. The middle-order, which appeared wobbly throughout the World Cup, certainly needs heft in the limited overs format. But I’ll restrict this piece to Kohli and Dhoni.
To divest Kohli of the ODI captaincy, as has been mooted in some quarters, is unwarranted at this point in time.
Going strictly by performance, the team didn’t flop. In fact, till the semi-final stage, India had lost only one match, the least by any team, and there was hardly any complaint about Kohli’s acumen, or lack of it.
Through the league phase India, and Kohli as captain, were the toast of the World Cup. Grievances about the team composition, tactics and spirit in the dressing room only emerged after the defeat in the semi-final. This is understandable, and merits review as mentioned in this space last week: especially the decision to bat Dhoni at no.7.
I maintain though that this was not the reason why India lost. New Zealand were simply the better side on the day. Their superb, gritty display in the final against England was sufficient explanation why they had beaten India earlier, so playing the blame game is retrograde, in my opinion.
That said, having different captains for different formats is not without merit. It depends on how the captain is performing in the leadership role as well as in his area of expertise. England’s World Cup winning captain Eoin Morgan, for instance, does not find a place in the Test team, while Joe Root, captain in the 5-day format, plays under Morgan in ODIs.
On the other hand, Kane Williamson captains New Zealand in all three formats, just as Kohli does. India failing to reach the final of the World Cup was a letdown, it can’t be overlooked that the team has been no.1 or 2 in ODIs for a lengthy period of time. To split the captaincy there must be strong reason and handled adroitly. At the moment it would be knee-jerk and send the wrong signals.
Where Dhoni is concerned, it would appear from reports that the cricket establishment is on the horns of a dilemma and has been waiting for the former captain to show his hand (which means see if he is retiring or not) before taking a decision. That puts the ball in the player's court rather keeping it with the selectors.
Retirement is never easy on a player, especially of such longevity. Giving up on something that you've given everything to for close to three decades (in Dhoni's case) would be hugely stressful. This must come from great personal conviction about when enough is enough. For players of the calibre, experience and achievements of Dhoni, the issue cannot be forced. And who knows, he may still have some gas left in the tank!
Yet the selectors must tackle their job proactively rather be stricken into passivity. The good part is don’t need further knowledge of what value Dhoni brings to the team, so makes eminent sense to try out someone with an eye on the future on this tour....