High stakes compel Shastri to back Dhoni and slam his critics

By Sudeep Sonawane

Ravi Shastri

Surat, The National Dawn
Indian national cricket team coach Ravi Shastri retorts, “Look at your careers?” when media asks his reaction on retired former players expressing opinions as commentators about Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s recent performances.

Former batsmen VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and all-rounder Ajit Agarkar recently criticised Dhoni’s slow batting in the second T20 against New Zealand.

They also gave opinions on Dhoni’s future in T20.

The former Mumbai all-rounder, commentator and now chief coach, implies ex-cricketers without impressive international records, say like Sachin Tendulkar or Ricky Ponting, should not give opinions on a current player who is past his prime. By Shastri’s skewed logic, Harsha Bhogle with zero first-class, Test, One-Day Internationals and T20 cricket on his resume should not do television commentary, leave aside discussing performances of senior players such as Dhoni. By the same logic, none barring former Indian women’s cricket team captain Diana Eduljee merits a place in the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), instituted earlier this January.

One may ask, what credentials does Vinod Rai, an economist who served as the 11th Comptroller Auditor General of India, have to lead the Board of Control for Cricket in India?

Similarly, what cricket pedigree Vikram Limaye, the third member of CoA, and CEO of Infrastructure Development Finance Company; and historian, researcher and author Ramchandra Guha have? Guha’s credentials do not matter now because he has resigned from the committee.

VVS Laxman

Shastri’s zealous support for Dhoni baffles knowledgeable cricket fans. Clueless below- average fans will continue to troll Laxman and Agarkar without understanding their reasons for criticising Dhoni.

Experts like Sunil Gavaskar with impressive international records will continue their diplomatic charade in the commentator’s box. He and other such commentators refuse to take a hardline against non-performing superstars. Their high commercial stakes prevent them from speaking their mind. Therefore, they express mild opinions that do not hurt people in high places. Their reason being, “Why should I be the one to bell the cat?”

From the current lot of commentators, barring Sanjay Manjrekar, and, Bishen Singh Bedi in the past, not many speak fearlessly. Many reasons compel experts like Gavaskar or Kapil Dev to avoid answering difficult questions. The player’s status, his links with board officials, Indian Premier League (IPL) owners, and corporate sponsors often give him immunity from their scrutiny. Note their criticism of new or a young player trying to prove himself in the team often flows freely. Two or three years later, when the player evolves into a star and his sponsors profile rises, the genuine comments and criticism vanish. Instead, they prefer indulging in meaningless post match analysis with anchors like Bhogle who follow the programme producer’s brief. They yap endlessly while the screens replay the match highlights. The anchor focuses on the highlights package, player of the match, best fielder, best dancer, best joker and such trivial titles that keep many lesser sponsors and average fans happy while discussing inanities with the ‘experts’. With high commercial stakes, the anchor dare not ask uncomfortable questions. He will not ask, “Why Dhoni wastes deliveries by blocking the ball back to the bowler when the team needs to maintain the needed run rate?”

Ajit Agarkar
M S Dhoni

The anchor cannot ask such questions even if he wants. Superstar players like Dhoni and Kohli endorse multiple brands and carry sponsors’ investments of millions of rupees besides a billion expectations of fans. So, why would the anchor and the great expert commentator, both part of this cozy club, rock this happy ship?

Experts like Laxman, Agarkar, Sehwag and others out of this elite club can express genuine opinions freely. They don’t have to worry about putting into jeopardy well-paid contracts either with BCCI Television or any other channel that has signed a multi million rupee longer term broadcast rights contract. The expert commentator will never ask or answer uncomfortable questions. “Why Dhoni backed and persisted with average players like Suresh Raina (in Tests), Ambati Rayudu in the past? Why does Kohli back an ageing Kedar Jadhav? Why India’s best batsman against spin Gautam Gambhir does not find favour? Why clueless batsmen from the current lot, barring Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, enjoy a free run in Tests despite failures against average spinners like England’s Moen Ali and New Zealand’s Mitchell Satner?” These reasons explain to cricket fans why Shastri fervently backs Dhoni and Kohli. These two players currently wield power in Indian cricket. He dare not upset their applecart. His predecessor Anil Kumble took the Chief Coach’s job too seriously and officials booted him out for tickling Kohli.

Shastri would rather hurt Laxman and Agarkar rather than the Big Two. Comparing records of these three with Dhoni as the current benchmark gives interesting inferences. I agree it’s unfair comparison because it pits all-rounder, batsman, fast bowler, and wicketkeeper-batsman against one another.
Nevertheless, Dhoni shines at the top, but he has played many matches compared to the other three. Laxman stands out tall as a batsman, while Agarkar does fairly well as fast bowler who could bat reasonably well.

Shastri’s report card as a bits and pieces player sucks. His bowling average looks like batting average and vice versa. One reason his below average performances escaped critical scrutiny in the 1980s because he was fortunate to be a part of great team. The squad comprised Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath, Sandeep Patil, K Srikkanth, Syed Kirmani, Roger Binny and Madan Lal – all members of the squad that won the World Cup in 1983.