Virat’s fulsome tribute to M.S. Dhoni, on handing over the mantle of Captaincy of ODIs and T20, could not have been more timely and scalding on a damp January morning. It is as much a reflection of MSD’s talismanic impact as a leader of disparate talents over a decade on his team mates, as Virat’s looming presence as the rarest of rare cricketing talent in recent years who is shaping up incredibly well as a captain also.
Dhoni, by common consent, has been the most consistent and charismatic captain of both One Day and T20 formats since 1975, when India made its baby steps in World Cup cricket; with Gavaskar scoring 42 not out against England in the full quota of 60 over. It would have made even a Len Hutton turn in his graves! Dhoni’s handing over the last over to Joginder Sharma against a rampaging Misbah, running gloveless to run-out a Bangladeshi batsman, with 2 runs to score in 3 balls or playing a helicopter six in the 2011 to win the World Cup in Wankhede, are stuff that legends are made of.
I was fortunate to be present in the stadium on that eerie night when the cool breeze of the Arabian Sea caressed our delight on the Marine drive, as never before. His rare gesture, standing in the sidelines when his teammates carried Sachin on their shoulders to do a victory lap was indeed an incredible sight in terms of courtesy and character. One recalls with anguish, how in contrast the charismatic captain Imran Khan at the end of World Cup final 2002 failed to even make a mention of his team mates, when Wasim Akram made a stellar contribution with the ball and Javed Miandad with the bat in the final. Comparisons are often odious, but this image stands in sharp relief of charismatic captains, across the subcontinent.
Cricket is all about character, charisma and confidence. Very often cricketers with equal talent flounder because of temperament. A case in point in India is of Vinod Kambli, Sachin’s school mate and Rohit Sharma in recent years. It is indeed incredible to watch, how Virat has reined in his combustible temperament to inch towards the ice cool temperament which is Dhoni’s trademark. A rare maturity for a youngster, who was understandably riled in the recent past, the way social media intruded in to his private space. Quite clearly he has the instinct of a fast learner and yen for incredible fitness. In a recent interview, he recounted how he felt like eating his bed sheet at the end of a long work out, to be fit as a fiddle. He can give run for money to many foreign cricketers like Jonty Rhodes, Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers, whom he openly admires. This is an aspect in Indian cricket, which has a sad legacy, when Greg Chappell was India’s coach and used to goad many stars to improve on their fitness. Virat in every sense combines the gaunt fitness of a Rahul, mesmeric talent of a Sachin, and a temperament inching towards Dhoni.
The selectors have chosen Yuvi over Karun Nair, who should have been picked up for the one dayers, based on his recent prodigious performance. Quite possibly it is nostalgia over youth and Yuvi’s role as an all-rounder that has tipped the scale in his favour. Apart from the selectors, Kohli would have played a part in this selection, as he would have watched his senior lofting deliveries, with effortless ease in the past and transmute impossible situations into reality. One recalls, how Garfield Sobers pleaded with the selectors to be given a chance to play for West Indies in the first World Cup in 1975. It was Rohan Kanhai, the old veteran, who was picked up instead.
Yuvi, Dhoni and Virat constitute the rare troika of finishers in cricket, which are non-parallel. Michael Bevan was an incredible finisher; so was Viv Richards the master blaster. Even Viv was out to a running catch by Kapil Dev in World Cup final 1983, at a crucial moment of the final; failing as a finisher! But Yuvi, Dhoni, Virat have never failed as finishers so far.
Virat has implored Dhoni to let his hair down and enjoy his batting at No 4. MSD’s long locks of early years and his bohemian hitting are legendary. Even the Pakistani President Musharraf publicly said that Dhoni looks good in long hair. Time will tell, whether he and Yuvi would get back that old magic, of enthralling the crowd, one with ruthless power, the other with the feline grace of a leopard. Or like the legendary Ulysses, it would be a case of “mind willing, flesh is weak”?
Bradman was bowled by an innocuous turner from Bill Bowes in 1946 on his last test; to be denied a average of hundred. Cricket has moved a long way in terms of its cricketing gear, and character, thanks to the Packer series in 1976-77. The coloured clothing, Big Boys playing at nights and the incredible earning of the cricketers often make old timers critical of present day cricketers. However, as E.H. Carr, the famous historian writes: History is progress and we must not be caught in a time warp. Yuvraj, MSD and Virat belong to the modern era who endorse bikes and brylcreams but also win thrilling matches for their country. They have the incredible tag of performers, finishers and fighters, without fail; whom every cricket lover all around the world dote and love to watch. The upcoming One-day series against England would be watershed moment for the veterans and youngsters to hear the chorus: “Yuvi, Dhoni, Virat”.
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