It’s something every team management fears — the side starting to pull in different directions. This happens when power centres emerge, and if unchecked, dressing room dynamics can go for a toss.
Insiders could see that malaise afflicting India during the Test series with Virat Kohli’s emergence as a towering personality was eroding skipper MS Dhoni’s influence. The timing could not have been worse as within a month, India will start their World Cup defence.
Few captains have been given the kind of power Dhoni has been by the Board. It helped him enjoy unstinted support from the troops. However, the players now know that Kohli is their future leader, Dhoni having already abdicated his Test leadership for the star batsman.
A concerned BCCI has gone back on its decision not to send selectors on tours. They now have two in Australia who will be part of the tour selection committee. It’s seen as a step to provide balance, and support Dhoni. One view is that they will help avoid selection hassles and back Dhoni if he finds himself isolated in the team management meetings.
Everything was smooth between the two superstars till the Australia tour. The dynamics changed during the series as Kohli went from strength to strength after his heroics as stand-in skipper on the final day of the opening Test. Then the spat between Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan on the fourth morning of the Brisbane Test affected dressing room peace during a crucial phase of play when India were batting to stay in the game. The distracted line-up collapsed like a pack of cards, resulting in defeat. The captain first mentioned after the match that a dressing room situation had affected the team, and the first signs of crack in Dhoni’s new team started to emerge.
It’s not that Dhoni never faced opposition in his earlier teams; the Delhi players were known to have differences with him. He could easily manage those situations because of the solid backing from the Board and the inconsistency of those players. However, Kohli’s influence is different for the sheer weight of his runs. Having the main player’s full backing gives the captain tremendous strength. If that is not forthcoming, it can be tough to manage.
Hence, the main challenge for Dhoni will be to get his vice-captain fully behind him. Kohli too should know that he is the future and it’s only a matter of time before he gets the reins in all formats. By helping rally the forces, he will only go up in the esteem of his teammates as a leader. It doesn’t help that it’s a long tour. Staying together for so long can reduce the tolerance threshold. People can lose their cool over trivial matters, things they would normally take in their stride.
Noted sports psychologist, BP Bam, a former Inspector General of Police, says: “If the team is not well knit it does affect performance. In any team, there are always undercurrents, there are groups. The players have to forget that and work towards the team goal. Cricket is a game of partnerships and you should be able to build them, or they should get into individual sports like shooting,” said Bam, who is also a qualified shooting coach. He had held sessions for India A, of which Dhawan and Kohli were members.
At the highest level, Bam says pressure comes in waves, but even under a tsunami of emotions, they will have to perform. “Dhoni was really good at handling pressure; Virat is turning out to be the same. They have to train their minds and emotions and play. Wisdom is in working out the priorities and following them.”
Dhoni only has to look back at the 2007 World Cup to realise how crucial dressing room atmosphere is for success. India had all the talent, but produced their worst-ever showing, losing in the first round in the Caribbean. Sachin Tendulkar, in his book, has revealed how the differences some seniors had with coach Greg Chappell affected the team.
Rahul Dravid’s men staring blankly from Trinidad’s Queens Park Oval dressing room balcony after being knocked out of the Cup is one of the saddest photographs in the book on Indian cricket. The signs are not good this time either, but there is time to put things in order.
When trouble brewed in the cup
There have been frustrating moments heading into the World Cup. HT lists issues that teams are facing before this edition:
In the past...
1983: Uneasy moments for Kapil and Sunny
Before the World Cup, Sunil Gavaskar was stripped of the captaincy after a disastrous Test tour of Pakistan and junior teammate Kapil Dev was elevated to the job, a decision that did not turn out to be very popular with some.
Gavaskar struggled for form in the tournament and did not play in two important fixtures, against West Indies and Australia early on.
Against Zimbabwe, he was included in the playing eleven after Dilip Vengsarkar reported injured at the last minute. However, each member of the team pulled his weight as India stunned West Indies in the final. Skipper Hughes faces the ire of stalwarts Marsh and Lillee
Kim Hughes was seen as the golden boy of Australian cricket in that era, and was promoted as captain at a fairly young age.
The batsman captained the side on and off, when Greg Chappell was absent. But this did not go down well with wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, who was Chappell’s deputy and had expected to take over the reins.
Marsh along with Dennis Lillee — best friends in the side — did not keep their thoughts to themselves, resulting in an almost mutiny-like situation.
Hughes led the team in the 1983 World Cup with these tensions flaring up and the side failed to make it to the knockout stages.
1992: Imran takes a dig at Javed
Both had captained Pakistan before, and Imran led the charge in 1992. They also came from very contrasting backgrounds — Imran was polished while Miandad was better known as a street fighter. In an interview, former Pakistan opener, Mudassar Nazar said Imran and Miandad had a ‘classic love-hate relationship’. Imran did not take the loss against India in the league stages lightly and lashed out indirectly at Miandad, who had scored 40 runs in 110 balls.
1996: Miandad faces criticism; Akram pulls out at the last minute
Once a nightmare for bowlers, especially in the slog overs, Javed Miandad was included in the side to achieve the record of having played in all the World Cups. But Miandad was close to retirement and his reflexes had gone. His selection invited lot of criticism. If that wasn’t enough, in the all-important quarterfinal against India in Bangalore, skipper Wasim Akram pulled out at the last minute citing an injury. Opening batsman Aamir Sohail was clearly unhappy after getting just five minutes notice to lead the side.
2003: Punter unhappy with Warne’s over-the-counter medication
Defending champions Australia were the team to beat in southern Africa, but even they could have done without the drama which surrounded Shane Warne. The leggie was suspended by Australian authorities after testing positive for banned diuretics in a test back home. He arrived in South Africa, only to announce that he took some tablets given by his mother to help lose weight. Skipper Ricky Ponting wasn’t amused, but the sheer depth in the Australian line-up carried them all the way.
Pace legends Waqar, Wasim fade into sunset bickering
The two Ws hunted down batting line-ups in tandem thanks to their blistering pace, swing and craft. But their camaraderie soured after Wasim was stripped of the captaincy and it was handed to Waqar for the 2003 edition.
Reports said half the side threw its weight behind Wasim while the Pakistan board turned a blind eye to this feud. Messages meant for the other were conveyed through senior batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Pakistan failed to qualify for the Super Sixes and both Wasim and Waqar called it a day after the tournament.
Sachin Tendulkar, who batted at No 4 in Tests, made the one-day opening spot his own. It didn’t go down well with him when coach Greg Chappell asked him to bat at No 4 in a series before the event in the West Indies.
Tendulkar had been unhappy even when skipper Sourav Ganguly asked him to do that in the 2002 Champions Trophy.
The plan flopped and India crashed out in the first round, ending Chappell’s era. Tendulkar pointed out that he had opened the innings during the build-up as well. “My logic was that I have been able to contribute as an opener, so I should continue doing that,” he wrote in his book Playing It My Way.
The West Indies were staging the Cup for the first time and expectations were naturally high among fans. But under Brian Lara, they lost successive Super Eight matches to Australia and New Zealand, losing their way.
Pace legend Andy Roberts, then a selector, blamed the team management for taking lopsided decisions in which he and the other selectors had no say.
Lara shot back: “All I can tell Roberts is that I did not select the squad. I just try my best with the players given to me.” Lara retired at the end of a disappointing campaign.