England fans may have thought they were at the wrong place. At the Eden Gardens, a day before the second Test, India weren’t looking like a unit that had been vanquished at the Wankhede. Agreed, the Englishmen were not expecting MS Dhoni’s men to arrive at practice with violins and play out some plaintive numbers. But if they were hoping to see a stirred India train with zing, they don’t know Dhoni. Too much of intensity, the Indian captain believes, can also hinder progress.
And so India, sans Harbhajan Singh who is down with flu, had a light practice drill on Tuesday. So light that Virender Sehwag was seen patting away half-trackers from four 4-ft something. At an adjoining net, Yuvraj Singh got his feet into a comic tangle while stepping out to Pragyan Ojha, drawing peals of laughter from his peers. Meanwhile, Sachin Tendulkar engaged coach Duncan Fletcher for a throwdown session, reminiscent of the Gary Kirsten times. Compared to Kirsten’s rockets, poor Fletcher appeared like a pea shooter who ended up giving a greater workout to himself.
But the most cutting image of the day was MS Dhoni’s brief stint at nets. He was struggling to middle the local bowlers — one of them dismembered his stumps too. A ‘light’ drill? Maybe not.
“As sports figures get on in years,” says an illustrious sports author, “they don’t go into free fall. It’s the consistency that goes first. Sometimes they have the magic. Other times there’s no coin — only a tuft of grey hair — behind their ears.” It’s as though these lines were meant to be penned for the Dhoni of now.
For the first time, ever since he took charge, his own form has been under scrutiny. His contribution with the bat in the ongoing series has been piecemeal and glovework far from tidy. “I’m not on a platform to assess the situation. I’m not on television nor am I writing a column,” Dhoni said when asked if he had assessed himself in recent times.
He reminded that even when captaincy wasn’t thrust on him, he was no less involved on the field. “When you talk about the wicketkeepers, they are the vice-captains, if not officially. The captain gives them the liberty to change the field. They are the active ones constantly. It’s very demanding but I don’t really think it affects your game a lot.”
It’s thought that given his colossal talent, Dhoni, the cricketer, can still evolve. But as captain, his career is in a state of flux. In his initial years into the role, he had a fairly settled team. The seniors were still a picture of assurance and winning at home was a given. Now, during his second phase as captain, he’s handling a side in transit. Soon, he could be in charge of an entirely new unit, indistinguishable from the one he was leading a year back. He could knock it into a shape he desires. But, how long would he want to stay on in the job? Perhaps, the outcome of this Test can provide a pointer.