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Team India's unity key to defending World Cup title

Unity of purpose is so important to succeed in a tournament like the World Cup where divisions within the ranks can spell disaster. As India bid to defend the title Down Under, they will have to make sure nothing takes their focus away.

WorldCup2015 Updated: Jan 19, 2015 11:14 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Hindustan Times
MS Dhoni,Virat Kohli,Australia

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 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.

Even though there was no direct confrontation between the two, noises emerging from the dressing room hinted that it was not a smooth transition as was being made out to be. Ravi Shastri was brought in to set things right for the World Cup, but even he doesn't seem to be in control of the situation. Cricketing wise, the former India all-rounder may be taking the right calls, but he has to be careful not to affect the tranquillity of the dressing room.

Mediating role

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.

First Published: Jan 19, 2015 10:01 IST