It was good to see Mahendra Singh Dhoni say at a press conference that during the course of a tournament (and perhaps much before and a long time after), he didn’t read newspapers or watch television. In other words, he is isolated from all the criticism and hoo-haa that accompanies every Indian series, and especially World Cups.
There is something almost judicial in this manner of keeping the mind clutter-free, and the refusal to be influenced by what the daily hacks and the time-fillers on television have to say about him and his captaincy.
In the old days, cricketers were told not to read the newspaper reports and columns on matches in which they played, and that was sensible. It meant that there was little immediate heartburn when they were criticised in print, and no chance of a casual throwaway line or a silly suggestion having an impact on their game. Players had to rely on proud mothers or other family members to cut and paste stories appearing in the press for later reading.
But all that was long ago. The no-newspaper brigade was followed by the fully-aware legion which kept itself informed of every word, every line that was written about them. On tours, it was always possible to see who had criticised whom in the Indian team; Kapil Dev would suddenly begin to avoid a particular reporter or Srikkanth would spend more time with one to put his side of the story across. But there were no permanent enemies, since, like a draw or a victory for the team, a word of praise for a player was always just around the corner.
And then came the Internet. Players became so clued in, they began to write to websites suggesting better pictures of themselves or correcting a minor error in the statistics. If it wasn’t the players, it was their agents who were doing this to earn their twenty percent or whatever.
Dhoni has said often enough what he thinks of the media, and most of it has not been very complimentary. Intense competition has led to some strange stories appearing, attributed to “my sources in the team” by the reporter.
Dhoni learnt a lesson in captaincy early in his career – do exactly what you want to, and thanks to the millions, including former players, who have an opinion on everything he does, there will be enough people who support him. This is a superbly mature attitude, and served him well in the unnecessary debate over the dropping of Virender Sehwag for the match against Australia.
It was a move criticised by the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid, but supported by Sourav Ganguly. It is difficult to imagine Dhoni not being aware of this, but it shouldn’t matter, and in his case it doesn’t.
The cricket captain is the supreme arbiter of what to do, whom to pick and drop in a team, and it is best left that way. If 43 percent of the viewers of a particular television channel think it was the wrong move (and 29 percent don’t give a rodent’s posterior either way), that should be of no concern to the captain.
It will be a dark day for sport if, like some politicians, cricket captains tailor-make their decisions for television. It is not unheard of in Indian sport. The previous selection committee pushed Yuvraj Singh into big cricket prematurely on his return from illness in what was a populist move.
For rising above such considerations, and going with the team he thinks is best suited to win a match, Dhoni has to be admired. If he doesn’t watch television or read the newspapers, good for him. Frankly, he is not missing much.