A brief email from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Tuesday evening confirmed the big news of the day: Sachin Tendulkar had conveyed to Board president Sharad Pawar that he “was not in a position to accept the captaincy of the Indian team for the Tests”.
Unless the selectors spring a surprise in order to protect M.S. Dhoni’s confidence with Australia in mind, the stage looks set for him to be declared India captain in all forms of the game on Thursday in Mohali, when the selectors meet to decide the squad for the next three ODIs against Pakistan and a Test captain for the Pakistan and Australia series.
This also will be in line with the thinking of a powerful section of the BCCI that there should be only one captain for all forms of the game. An Indian selector, confirming this on Tuesday night after an informal chat with his colleagues, said they had been stunned by the Tendulkar news. He said they had not known of it in advance — as was being projected on television — and were taken “completely unawares”.
“We had talked informally to Sachin in Hyderabad (during the ODI against Australia) about the captaincy and were set to announce him as Test skipper and Dhoni as vice-captain,” said another selector.
“The whole idea was that playing Australia in Australia is the toughest assignment in world cricket and we thought that Dhoni may not be ready to be thrown into the deep end as it could demoralise him. We’re looking at him as a long term option who should be groomed in stages.”
Tendulkar, according to sources, thinks that Dhoni is ready. In fact, the BCCI release had one more interesting line: “He (Tendulkar) was of the view that presently, the Indian team was doing extremely well and the Board must think of appointing a younger person as the captain looking at the future of the team.”
This, said sources close to Tendulkar, was “very close in spirit” to what Tendulkar himself is feeling at this point in time.
However, this doesn’t make sense if he did actually accept the idea of being Test skipper in Hyderabad, as the selectors believe he did. Unless, of course, there was some bizarre lack of communication and he believed he had told them he would “think about it” and they took that as assent. But this too seems far-fetched, for, Tendulkar after all, did accept the Test vice-captaincy in England.
It’s all quite strange. As one selector declared, “Sachin has gone and spoilt our plans now, we’re in a bit of a fix.” The problem now is two-fold. First, India is set to have a rookie skipper in Australia (unless of course, the selectors spring a surprise on Thursday — this being Indian cricket, 48 hours is enough for anything).
The second is, who on earth will they appoint as vice-captain Down Under? It will be difficult to have a senior man as Dhoni’s deputy, Yuvraj Singh is vice-captain in the shorter formats but his place in the playing XI is not guaranteed in Tests.
Meanwhile, even while the BCCI denied there was any sinister motive behind Tendulkar’s decision — even sources close to Tendulkar declared there was no truth in the rumour that he was miffed with chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar’s perceived high-handedness and the treatment meted out to seniors — the grapevine kept buzzing.
A senior player told HT that it made sense for Dhoni to face the heat in Australia if he was to lead in easier series — perhaps a reflection of the general feeling. But sources close to Dhoni said he would not be under any pressure, as he believed that no one expected India to really do well in Australia. Also, given that his positive aggression on the field masked a somewhat cynical attitude off it, he was firmly grounded and had decided he could deal with whatever challenge was thrown at him.
But what an unfortunate reflection on the system and cricketing ethos of the country — that India’s two best players don’t want the Test captaincy.