Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Timeo danaos et donna ferentes, Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is India’s skipper for ODIs now. While most of India’s press has been talking about this being a message sent out by the BCCI, that India is looking towards the future and towards the youth, I am not so sure if that is the case. I agree that this is perhaps a move in the right direction, but it seems to be a tad premature and the tenure seems to leave some important questions unanswered. Let me try and explain my predicament.

Preparing for the 2011 world cup from now seems to be the right thing to do. For winning that world cup, planning needs to be done now. But it does not seem to be planned in the right way. To win the 2011 world cup India needs a team. A TEAM. A captain is part of the team. The board first needs to identify 15 players who will be capable of winning consistently. The decision of selecting a captain who is likely to be around till 2011 is more symbolic than strategically thought out.

That is why the ‘sources in the board’ (that damned phrase again) have been hinting from behind the curtains that the holy trinity of Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar need to think of their ODI future. Nobody from the board has come out in the open and said that they will replace them by April 2008, however good their form is, as they will not be around to form the nucleus of the side in 2011. ‘Senior board officials’ have only been giving veiled sound bytes to try to look as if they are trying to do something.

One might be temped to tell Dhoni, ‘Timeo danaos et donna ferentes’. While the appointment has been made keeping the youth in mind, the youth has been given just 12 ODIs to prove his mettle as captain against two very competitive sides, one of them being the world champions for 10 years. This is certainly not looking towards the future. One needed a 1 year appointment, at the least. Another reason why Dhoni has been given a raw deal is that the 3-year veteran would be leading a side with probably no coach against two very strong teams. If MSD proves himself in these two tough series, it will be against the odds.

The board first needs to put a succession plan in place. They need to say that they will ease out the holy trinity that forms the nucleus of this side, in the next 18 months. They need to put up 15 players who will ensure that these players are not missed, and by that I mean that the 15 should be able to consistently win matches for India. That is the only way one shall not miss these three great players with 37,000 ODI runs between them. Out of those 15 players India needs the best man to lead the side. If it emerges that Dhoni is the person most capable of doing it, so be it.

This was the best chance to put somebody like a Ganguly at the helm. He should have been given a clear mandate to build a team and groom 2 people as successors. Irrespective of the results, Ganguly should have been given tenure for 18 months. Even if India would have won every series, he would have had to step down as captain at the end of it as his job would be to make a team that can compete for another 4years after that. Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and even Dhoni were players that came into the reckoning and made their marks under Ganguly. He has a proven track record and he should have been asked to build a team, especially in the absence of a coach.

People might argue that this would be taking a step down. Well, I agree. But it is necessary. Just like the hill-climbing approach, there should be provision for downward movement to be able to reach the peak. Dravid said that the shelf-life of a captain is becoming smaller. And he was captain for 2 years. Dhoni will have to be in the hot seat for 4 years till the 2007 world cup. Would it serve India’s purpose if there were to be another skipper in 2010, a year before the big tournament?

India needs to clearly chalk out succession plans and build a new team, and give timelines by when it would be achieved. The appointment of somebody with 3 years’ experience is not reason enough to bring out the champagne and celebrate the board’s forward way of thinking. They first need to appoint a good coach and build a good team. If one has a good team, an average captain can look great, but a bad team can even make the best of captains look pedestrian. Dhoni’s appointment will fall flat on the face unless a good side is created.