A little after Mahendra Singh Dhoni was dismissed by lion-hearted Aussie pace bowler James Pattinson for 224 on Day Four of the Chennai Test, Ravi Shastri spoke about how great Dhoni will be viewed when he enters the dressing room and also press conferences.
I’ve attended more than half a dozen of Dhoni’s press briefings when India were getting hammered in England and ridiculed by the media during the summer of 2011 so I can understand where Shastri was coming from by that comment. However, I don’t believe Dhoni has had to deal with immense pressure from the media than say a captain would cop in England or Australia and to be fair to him, he has handled things well while traversing the rocky path.
As for cricket pundits who believe Dhoni has silenced his critics with his epic double ton, he sure has. But the double hundred shouldn’t dust away the reason for questioning Dhoni’s captaincy. For heaven’s sake, his Test record as a leader in the last two seasons has been abysmal and it would be extraordinary not to question his captaincy.
With India’s press coverage heavily dependant on quotes, not all reporters enjoy a large platform to comment on match-related issues. The comment space is reserved for the experts and, to an extent, rightly so. Those experts have been generally sympathetic to Dhoni. One of the reasons could be that they have been in tough situations before and two - which is a far more understandable reason - Dhoni is a top-class performer.
While it is easy to assume that it’s an Us vs Them situation with the players and the media, it is probably a wrong assumption. Yes, the Press corps especially from some news channels can go over the top in ridiculous fashion, but there is also a level of understanding among some that at the end of the day, it’s only a game, one that is very hard to win at. The complexities of the game are not brought up vehemently enough and though television has done great things for the sport, it’s also made it look simple.
Back to Dhoni. It is not his job to be helpful to the media, but any notion of him being helpful should be obliterated. I believe he should have addressed the press after his double century at the end of the third day’s play. Sure, Virat Kohli, who scored a magnificent hundred came to the press conference last Sunday, but why couldn’t the captain turn up too?
Wasn’t it good reason for Dhoni to blow India’s trumpet on their best Test match day against Australia since 2010? But then, that would be akin to spreading out a seven-course meal to the media when only a lunch box would do. Captain Cool then turns up for his post-match conference on Tuesday and talks about how he doesn’t read the sports pages of newspapers and watch the news. “That has really helped, frankly,” he was quoted as saying.
That probably tells us why Dhoni has very, very rarely agreed to one-on-one interviews in the last five years. His I-don’t-read-newspapers comment reminds me of what Kapil Dev told an audience during the 2011 edition of the Raj Singh Dungarpur World Cricket Summit in Delhi: “I have heard some great players like Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar say that they never read the newspapers, but there are these little issues which players get to hear about and these things affect them. Media in this country is sensational, emotional. We have not reached a stage where we have a mature media and our cricketers have to learn to handle that.”
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor