Cricket column: The method in Dhoni’s media madness is simply stupid

Sports Saturday 02/April/2016 20:49 PM
By: Times News Service
Cricket column: The method in Dhoni’s media madness is simply stupid

AFTER the last-ball one-run victory over Bangladesh at Mohali on March 23, Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni told an Indian reporter at the post-match press conference that cricket was not played to script. We were enlightened by MS that the tone and the question — how satisfied were the Indian team with such a win when pre-match talks had focused on a big win that would drive the run rate up — were obnoxious.
Then, a few days later, the Indian captain played cricket with a well-honed script.
The press conference Dhoni had after the semifinal defeat at the hands of the West Indies on Thursday was about cricket that had a script cleverly plotted and practised-to-perfection by MS. The spontaneous smile — which the unwitting victim Australian journalist Samuel Ferris later recollected as the crisp white one often seen in TV commercials — that bloomed on Dhoni’s face after he had made sure he got the right ball to execute his well-rehearsed strike, and the sudden change in mood from cold or customary to warm and welcoming, didn’t give any hint of the Dhoni script which was just about to unfold dramatically, though.
The Cricket Australia correspondent, who was ready with his “pretty standard question” which he thought was “a fairly routine one for a 34-year-old captain” just eliminated from the World T20 Championship, went for it when his turn rolled out because “the question had not been asked by anyone else” at the press conference. Imagine how that long wait for the question Dhoni was smacking his lips for, and the fear that it just might not really happen, may have frustrated the skipper.
The question wasn’t popped by an Indian media man. Dhoni knew it would come, and when it did at last, from a foreigner, he made sure he heard it right. As soon as the nervous man repeated the question—“are you keen to continue playing on?”— after trying to take the sting out of the stab with a “you have achieved virtually everything that a cricketer could” preface, Dhoni was at his charming best.
Seldom have we seen Dhoni in such buddy-buddy mood lately. Short of walking up to the man and escorting him to the stage, Dhoni did everything to lead Ferris down the garden path. He dusted the chair, pulled it closer to him so he could put his arm around the shoulder of the guy, patted his back as the journalist gingerly took his seat and fired the salvos after queering the pitch, the crisp, white smile intact all along, and tricked Ferris into giving script-perfect responses.
The build-up to the climax was smart, smooth and simple. As Dhoni swiftly got to the last lines in the plot, especially the all-important one, “do you think I can survive till the 2019 World Cup?”, to which the confused correspondent could only mumble, “umm, yes, sure”, the Australian was completely clueless about what was going on. The final punch, “then you have answered the question”, was brilliant. Dhoni had the laugh, from first to last.
Thrice in the last few days Dhoni had got media guys to land the ball in his area. First, he ripped apart the reporter who questioned the strategy of the Indian team after a narrow escape from Bangladesh. Then, he stumped the photographer who sought a click with a sarcastic “cricket khel lein?” line. And now this, the hat-trick. There’s a method in Dhoni’s media madness but, honestly, it’s simply stupid.
By his own admission, Dhoni is someone very unlike Virat Kohli when it came to playing shots all around the field. With only a few, old bullets in his kitty, he would try to clear the ropes only if the ball was in his area. Brian Lara used to pick the bowlers with ease and the secret, as revealed by the great man, lay in the art of getting the bowlers confused and panicked enough to force them into bowling where he had wanted them to. That’s a trait Kohli seems to be getting a hang of, especially in the last few T20 games.
Dhoni has never had any of it, neither the skill of Lara nor the will of Kohli. At 34, getting the bowlers to toe his line is becoming impossible. The media guys are keeping their hands off the trigger for now, but Dhoni knows he could not take their silence for granted. The ugly, unpleasant questions will be fired at him at any time. The best way to get going is to try and pre-empt the attack.
At the moment, Dhoni is right on the money, maybe, but he’s quite simply staring down the barrel of a gun.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman