Why this mystery over Dhoni's deputy?

Not only did the Board of Control not offer basic explanations for key omissions and inclusions when they released India’s Champions Trophy squad to the media last week. They also chose not to announce a vice-captain.

I understand that Virat Kohli is the selectors’ choice as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s deputy and the Delhi man has also been told that he will lead the side if Dhoni picks up an injury which rules himself out.

Ironic plight: M S Dhoni’s deputy for the Champions Trophy has not been announced. Pic/AFP

But no, the media shouldn’t know!
By not going official with the announcement of the deputy, the Board seems to be sending out a signal to Kohli: ‘you can lose the vice-captaincy anytime.’

So is Dhoni now in a position to pick his deputy? Probably. And the Board not announcing the vice-captain comes in handy. In an ideal set-up, the vice-captain is known to everyone and groomed to be the next leader. Wonder whether the forces that rule Indian cricket are even thinking about Dhoni’s successor even though there are no great leadership candidates in sight. Kohli, as he has proved in the Indian Premier League, is too much of a hot head to be leading in high-pressure situations. Gautam Gambhir can take aggression to ridiculous lengths too.

Meanwhile, only few things can be more ironical: India leads world cricket, but don’t have leaders within their team.

The vice-captain issue is important. In Mike Brearley’s The Art of Captaincy, the former England captain, a psychotherapist, writes: “Like a vice-president, such a man may not be suited for the presidency. He may lack the personality to impose his will and style on the side. He may be unwilling or unable to take a firm line. He may, in short, be an admirable Number Two, able to give advice without sulking, if it is not followed, and yet not be Number One. But the vice-captaincy is often the best training ground for the captaincy.”

Talking of Brearley, one wonders whether Dhoni has read his famous book. He’ll do well to read up. Some Indian stalwarts have, and I remember an Indian captain calling up a journalist a few hours after he was interviewed in his hotel room telling him not to write about Brearley’s book lying on the table. He didn’t want the world to know that he’d been reading.

Back to the Champions Trophy selection and the BCCI’s ‘we-don’t-owe-you-any-explanation’ ways. Considering the media frenzy, one shouldn’t expect the chairman of selectors to address the media (except for a World Cup selection) because there will be no end to that media briefing.

All respect for the chief selector’s achievements as a player is often forgotten at such press conferences and it was sad to see how some media persons interacted with stalwarts like Ramakant Desai and Chandu Borde when they sat in the hot seat. After all, cricketers are not public speaking exponents.

Then president Jagmohan Dalmiya discontinued the media-briefing practise after Borde was grilled in Nagpur 2002, but the activity resumed when Kiran More became chairman followed by the straight-talking Dilip Vengsarkar. Krishnamachari Srikkanth provided a few bytes and once lost his cool at a reporter. What followed was, “boss, you just shut up now!”

Post-selection conferences attracted some mirth as well. I remember being at the Cricket Club of India when Navjot Singh Sidhu’s comeback for the 1997 tour of the West Indies was announced. The late and respected journalist Rajan Bala asked the chairman, ‘why this change of heart when it comes Sidhu?’ Bala’s question had the chairman confused. ‘What’s wrong with Sidhu’s heart?’ he asked Dalmiya who was besides him.

A few years later, a journalist got into an argument with the chief selector after a press conference and wowed never to speak to him again. We’ve heard of famous personalities severing ties with media men, but this was probably an unprecedented reverse.

Sandeep Patil is saved from the torture of dealing with the media although I reckon he would have enjoyed it and excelled. But the BCCI must explain key decisions and injuries. Else they will continue to be known for their undemocratic ways.

Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports EditorĀ 

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