Sunday, April 03, 2011

'Change Managers' & 'Continuous improvement agents' Dhoni & Kirsten

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was part of the previous Indian world cup (2007) team that was eliminated early. He, in fact, was integrally involved in the failure, when he failed to support the then skipper Dravid in the still-in-balance elimination match with Sri Lanka. He played the ugliest first-ball shot of his career to Murali first up and departed almost looking happy to go.

Then came the elevation. Dhoni became the T20 & ODI skipper in 2007. The T20 WC win gave him some power with the authorities as well. And he set about arranging his pieces for the change he saw as compulsory.

Irrespective of what people think of him, everything he has done since was done with the good intent of increasing India's chances of success. Some of them were drastic yet right decisions. Dravid & Ganguly's one day omissions were such. These are two players he respected for their ability and Test performances, but also rightly judged the unsuitability of these two to modern limited overs cricket. Some in recent times have been controversial. The selections (or non-selections) of Pragyan Ojha and Ashwin in various series / tournaments are amongst those.

While each decision can be discussed and criticised, it surprises me that so often the INTENT of MSD's decisions gets questioned. And especially as it involves a man who is the first one to admit his positives and his mistakes including his own non-performance after every match in front of all the world (try that just ONCE, to understand what it takes to do it) and tries to build further on it. All of it an extension of the mission of continuously improving the team he is entrusted with.

For the Indian ODI side, we have seen the COMPLETION of transition from dependence on the 10 year+ greats in the match yesterday. Make no mistake. What the cricket world saw yesterday was awe-inspiring.They saw a bold, formidable team which has delivered when it mattered. What's awe-inspiring? That the win came through guys that will return at the next world cup at their peak powers (or still close to it). This team has its problems, but it is aware of those and is perhaps smart enough to assess them well and chart a near perfect 'horses for courses' solution for the chinks. Much of it MUST BE thanks to their skipper and coach...combined with some support from the selection panel who at times have trusted these two guys even when they were unconvinced themselves.

Gary is now leaving for home. Do you think this is going to be Dhoni's BIGGEST contribution to Indian cricket? Much less. He has a far tougher transition in hand in next 2 years - doing to the Test team what he did to the limited overs side. That side is far more dependent on 10+ experience players. Alarmingly it still remains so even after retirement o 2 greats like Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly. And the reason behind it is why that makes it more important - young talents are not adept at the longer version as the older generation and this gap is increasing ALARMINGLY. Dhoni's ability to keep the Test team at the top and hence creating a 'suction' for Test cricket amongst youngsters picking up a bat or ball is critical to the health of Indian cricket (and hence cricket in general) in next 2 decades.

Imran Khan made a great comment after yesterday's victory when Rajdeep Sardesai asked him if Imran was expecting India to win the World Cup. Imran said words to this effect:

"India have been doing well in all forms of cricket in the lead up to world cup. And this is what was Pakistan team was also doing in 1992. This is always the case.'

Imran was not far off the mark. India 1983 were the SOLE instance of a 'not-doing-too-well-for-previous-years' team winning the world cup and sending shock waves. All the others were always major contenders. Success in all forms of cricket is thus intertwined.

If India's Test side tails off, it can still enjoy ODI / T20 sucees for a couple of years. At most. But such anomaly will indicate inability of Indian first class cricket to produce Test quality players...and soon enough the cracks will show up in ALL forms. See Australia between 2007 & 2011? If the Aussie case looks like a moderate decline, we need to remember that such decline in quality is happening INSPITE of an Aussie cricket system in place to prevent it. We do not really have a strong system as yet - we depend heavily on the individual leaders for identifyig talents that come up, how these talents are nurtured and focussed to perform well as well as work for team's cause. This has a big bearing on the team performance, hence its ability to create a following and generate for talent.

That is why people like Ganguly & Dhoni are important to create this 'suction' at top by generating success. That is why the ONLY person I have seen close to God in cricket is Imran Khan of Pakistan, where even the gradually-shaping-up cricket system we have is non-exitent.

From that ugly dismissal in 2007, to the gutsy and brilliant innings culminating in an unforgettable winning sixer in 2011 - the circle probably turned the proverbial FULL circle for Mahendra Singh Dhoni when India chased a once-in-4-years Cup final with 2 of their 3 "10+ years big batting guns" gone within 1st 12% of the chase.

The ODI transition is complete for now, even though Sachin chooses to plays on for a couple of years.

Waiting for the next great transition show for Indian cricket - the Test team. And this time Mahendra Singh Dhoni will need to bridge a bigger gap, with no Gary Kirsten as his accomplice. This where the new coach is going to be critical in carrying on the legacy of Kirtsen-Dhoni combo, albeit with tweaks to suit the style of the new guy. And this is where all of us - cricket followers & media alike - are also going to be critical. How? Simply by appreciating that the Test transition is going to be tougher, with the self-styled-self-techniqued-self-taught-but-team-oriented Amazer from Ranchi himself getting on in years.

The legacy of Dhoni-Kirsten will matter. Just as it always did ever since a rotten, shame-ridden legacy was chucked away 11 years ago and a new legacy gradually emerged under Sourav Ganguly and John Wright. A legacy that has since underwent upheavals, modifications, even personal clashes and downward spirals but nevertheless always strove to achieve improvement [Some things do not really change, perhaps..]

[Edited from a note in my Facebook page]

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