As Sachin Tendulkar was making history, Mahendra Singh Dhoni setting fields and India marching to their biggest ever win in term of runs, one man was indulging in his hobby, sitting behind a long lens in the waiting area outside the dressing-room and capturing moments for posterity. Anil Kumble would have allowed himself a wry smile as commentators went gaga over how the Indian team were a happy bunch under Dhoni as they rattled to victory. Dhoni’s leadership in the Mohali Test was typical of the man — energetic, proactive and decisive. Of course, when you win the toss, and virtually every session that follows, you will look good as a captain. But what was instructive was just how visible Dhoni was, once he was given the reins, even temporarily.
All through the last year Dhoni has had to perform a balancing act, taking total control of the ODI team while curbing his instincts when being the wicketkeeper in Tests. While his blue-shirted avatar has been the most high profile — you can’t go two television adverts without Dhoni selling you something or the other — he has been almost invisible in the Test team.
Wicketkeepers, like umpires, are only noticed when they make mistakes, and it is a measure of how steady Dhoni’s glovework has become that he barely draws scrutiny. With the bat, at No. 7, Dhoni averaged 23 for the year before the Mohali Test, while in the same period he has controlled the ODI batting, often from No. 3, making close to 1000 runs at 63.66. In the Test team of superstars Dhoni has been India’s invisible man.
To draw the conclusion that Dhoni isn’t putting in the same effort when he is not captain would be childish and mean. Some people just reach a new level when they take ownership of something, and Dhoni is a classic example of that. While he had work to do to make the ODI team his own — bring in certain kinds of players, phase out a brand of cricket — he will have much less to do when he takes over the Test captaincy, and for that he can thank Kumble.
While the team looked a happy unit under Dhoni and that happens to all winning teams, the true test of a group is under pressure, with results not quite looking good, and it was in these conditions that Kumble forged this team into what it was. If Dhoni's brand is synonymous with exuberance and youth, Kumble injected the team with steel, dignity and belief, the focal point being in Australia when allegations of racism flew almost as thick and fast as outside edges.
When Kumble was made captain last year, it was a job no-one wanted, with Rahul Dravid stepping down from the hot seat and Sachin Tendulkar refusing the job. The selectors believed that a home series against Pakistan quickly followed by one away in Australia might just prove too hot to handle for an inexperienced Dhoni, and events that followed, and the statesman-like manner in which Kumble conducted himself, proved the selectors right.
Now comes another succession, and it has all the signs of being a happy one. Kumble will not go on much longer — at the most the two home Tests against England following this series — and then Indian cricket will be placed solely in Dhoni's hands.
For once, the Indian captaincy is not a poisoned chalice, this time around, the question of succession has not raised controversy, conflict, challengers, even eyebrows. Other than the sheer joy of lording it over Australia, this Test should always be remembered for this: An Indian captain will not be staying longer than he was popular, and the successor will not have to wait any longer than necessary.