In what was his first media interaction since quitting limited-overs captaincy, Mahendra Singh Dhoni elaborated on various aspects -- his tenure as captain, his relationship with Virat Kohli, press conferences and more. Excerpts of the 20-minute interaction:
Will we get to see the Old Mahi now that you have resigned from captaincy?
As a cricketer, quite a few things have changed. I debuted in 2004, got the captaincy in 2007. From there to now, the journey over the period has changed in accordance with the team’s requirements, especially as it changed a bit from my side. First, I batted down the order, then I got the chance to bat higher. After that, my order has never been fixed. I used to play 25 or 30 overs, which has changed over the last few years after the top order has been playing well. I felt lower down the order we needed a batsman who could finish more explosively, and we couldn’t find one so I was batting down the order. Over the years I have changed my batting according to the team’s requirements. In the time to come, I will bring in changes with regards to my role and responsibilities. In the last 10 overs if I need to score, I need to score a lot more runs, that will be the normal scenario.
Can you elaborate on the processes before announcing your decision to quit captaincy and how you will get it out of the system after leading the team for so long?
To cut the long story short, in my mind, my last series was the South African series in India (2015). After that it has been pretty easy to judge why I went to Zimbabwe and all of that. Because of all that finally I told the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) officially that I won’t be captaining anymore. I am somebody who believes in our scenario split captaincy is something that doesn’t really work, and it is not something I have a view upon right now.
It was something I always believed in that with the Indian team, you know, one player leading the players in all the formats is something that is very crucial. Now that I can’t be the Test captain, I don’t think my views should change. So, it was something that was always in my mind.
Virat took over the Test captaincy and I wanted him to have some time over there and get into the full captaincy role, so he was always ready. You know, limited-overs format is not a big challenge. And that’s why I finally decided to move on and give Virat the full captaincy.
The captaincy part... I think the wicketkeeper is always a vice-captain of the side irrespective of whether he is announced vice-captain or not. One thing is the field setting is usually given to the vice-captain or the wicketkeeper. In this scenario, I will have to keep a close eye as to what the skipper really wants, as to what are his preferential field positions. When I was the captain, and the wicketkeeper, I always knew what I wanted, where I could keep the fielder.
Virat and this team will win more games than me
So I already had this chat with Virat about how he likes his fielders, where he wants them to be because that will have to be changed. In the sense I have to be more aware of whether he wants a short third-man fine or he wants it slightly wider because different people have different opinions on how they want to use a particular fielder. If you had a short third or a fine leg, I always preferred it closer to me so that it’s slightly more difficult for the batsman; he has to play a shot to get it through the right side of the field. All of that I have to adapt, but overall I don’t think much changes.
I will be there to give as many suggestions as possible to Virat as and when required. The field positioning is something I have to keep a close eye on. I can’t just say ‘you go left, you go right.’ I will have to consult him and tell him because if it is strategically positioned in a particular place. I can become a bit of a problem if I start moving around, but it’s not something that’s a big trouble to cope with. It’s just that I will have to keep a close eye, especially in the first few games, maybe a couple of games I can read the field positioning and everything and use it properly.
High points of your captaincy and any regrets?
I don’t regret anything in life because what has happened has happened. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. As far as the good things are concerned, there are plenty of good things that happened. It is very difficult to pick and say, ‘ok, these were the difficult parts, these were the parts we really enjoyed.’ Overall, it has been a journey for me with the ups and downs right from when I started. I went through the good period, I went through the tough period.
When I started there were a lot of senior players in the side and as we progressed there was a time when the senior players had to leave and we had to make sure the transition is smoother. Also, what happens at that point of time is you try to groom the youngsters so that they start to perform very quickly.
The only good thing is if you see over the period once the seniors left us and the juniors came into the side, from that point till now it is the same juniors who have started to do well. We invested in them and over the period they started proving they are the ones who will take the legacy forward when it comes to Indian cricket. So that was a very satisfying thing to see. Overall it was a journey I really enjoyed and it is something that brings a smile on your face whether it is the tough periods or the winning periods, but overall it is the journey that is more important.
Head coach Anil Kumble said yesterday you share a good equation with Virat. Can you talk about it?
We have been very close, right from the start. The best part about Virat is right from when he got a chance to play... you know in Indian cricket we’ve seen, more often than not, a lot of cricketers, say, when they get five games and if they are out of the side, they’re always worried about the two games they didn’t get.
Virat was always somebody who always wanted to improve in whatever chances he got. He wanted to do well in those games. And that is the reason why he is so successful right now. He always wanted to contribute more. If he scores a 60 or 70, he’s somebody who wanted to score a 100. He wanted to be there at the crease when India are chasing. So, I felt that was the key factor for me and right from the start, we have interacted a lot. He has improvised his cricket and his thinking. With more responsibility on him, he’ll keep getting better. And now that he’s leading the Test side for more than a year and playing a lot more matches.... ODI is a slightly easy format. Okay you may have to take quick decisions at times, but still compared to the Test format, it is easier to captain.
I thought it’s a waste of time to have pre-match press conferences by captains. I always felt, post match is when captain can express himself, pre-match I think is a waste of time
My job will be to assist him whenever it is needed. Give him whatever my thoughts are from behind the stumps - reading the batsman, how they’re batting, what their strengths are, how the bowler is bowling. Because that is the real asset of a wicketkeeper. He sees the whole game in front of him - the bounce of the wicket, the line that the bowler is bowling, whether the batsman is playing a good shot or the bowler is bowling a bad delivery. From my side, it will be about flowing of information, and giving him as much information as possible, info that doesn’t really confuse him and keep it very simple. And ultimately he will have to pick and choose as to these are the options. I think the kind of relationship we have - what’s brilliant is if I go up with 100 ideas to him, he is comfortable saying no to all of them because that’s what his responsibility is - to pick and choose what he’s really convinced about. I think that kind of relationship is very important because I shouldn’t feel ‘okay, if I am saying something, that should happen’ and he shouldn’t feel as if whatever is coming from my side, has to be implemented. Because he has to take the responsibility of the decisions he’s making, so the more I can serve him, the more he can pick and choose for our cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar did well without captaincy. During the last 10 years, did you feel the burden of leadership was holding you back?
It depends on what your role is in the team. Because I was the captain, I always felt because it was difficult for newcomers to come and bat at 6 or 7 so I thought I should be the person who takes that added responsibility of playing lower down the order so that the youngsters come in and get a chance to express themselves, and once they have big scores under them, in the future you can look to... if somebody has the talent of batting down the order, you can shift them lower down the order. So that was something that was in my mind, and I kept doing it. Yes I didn’t get a lot of chance to bat because of that. I would’ve preferred batting at 4, playing more overs, but felt it was more important to see if somebody else can bat at 4 and if I can bat at 5 and that gives more power to our batting line-up compared to me batting at 4 and him at 5.
Overall you have to see the balance of the team, and see what happens when two individuals interchange their batting positions. At the end of the day, the team is more important that the individual. I could’ve got maybe few more runs than I have right now, but it is about winning. It’s about how many games we win. Cricket, I always felt, was more of a mental game. At times I found individuals can be very rigid. When you’re supposed to shift your batting slot, at times it is very difficult to adjust to that new mindset or change the game the way it is supposed to be played according to the team or that slot. I thought I was somebody who could do that and I was willing to do that for the team. It is the same as of now, if I am supposed to bat at 4, 5, 6, 7 whatever the demand is for the team’s betterment, I am ready to bat there.
You didn’t give too much away on the field or in pressers. What is the aspect of captaincy that actually gave you the kicks?
The main job of the captain is to make sure that whatever is the potential of the player, he is performing to a 100 per cent. Usually if you can achieve something between 90 to 110 per cent, you know you’ve done really well. You can’t really get 150 per cent performance from a player who is 80 per cent. That’s where you have to be very practical, very honest. You should know ways as to how to handle each and every individual. There are different ways to handle everyone - for some it is a kind word, for some it is a harsh word. For some it may be just expression with your eyes. So you have to figure out what really works the best, at times it maybe the false confidence you give the guy because that is what is really needed at that point of time. You have to be clever enough to evaluate as to this is what is needed at that point of time. Ultimately the leader’s job is to get the best out of the team. If the team is there and you know the potential of the team, you can definitely make sure that they perform to the potential.
Whatever the demands of the team, I am ready to bat there
You may face a few problems at times, say you have 2 or 3 batsmen who are not performing at the same time, that maybe a hindrance. But more often than not, you look at the bigger picture, of say, if you’re backing someone... once it comes to the ICC events and the big tournaments and the knockout stages, who is that person who can really win those big games for you. But at the end of the day, you can give only a few games to an individual. Maybe 2 or 3 or 4 more games that is provided by the team if they are doing really well. Overall you can’t do much but you still need to have that faith and you want to make sure that everybody is performing to the kind of potential.
What aspect of captaincy will you not miss?
The press conferences. I always felt there were too many press conferences. I always felt it was better to have captains come for post-match (pressers). I feel we don’t need to have press conferences everyday because you want new views, new ideas coming from the player’s side. Let’s say for the start of the series you have the captain coming up for the first match presser - maybe after the game he can come again, but after that, whoever is performing should come for the pre-match because more often than not, the questions are related to the game and the skipper is more appropriately placed to answer those questions and before the game, I don’t think a skipper can say a lot. If we are going through a bad phase, okay what’s the next game plan? Game plans are not done in press conferences. I always felt the captain at times had too many exposures. Specially when we went outside (abroad), it became difficult to convince the local bodies that it is not really needed, that it is a waste of time and talent. But it was like ‘okay, it is written in the MoU, so the captain needs to do it.’ It was actually quite foolish but I always felt post-match (presser) is where the captain can go and express himself - what went wrong, what should be done.
Was there one particular trigger when you decided to let go of captaincy?
Right from the start, when I left Test captaincy, I knew split captaincy doesn’t work in India, doesn’t work in our set-up. I was waiting for the right time. I wanted Virat to ease into the Test format. With so many games, I feel he is right there. With this kind of decision, there is no wrong decision in it. It is just the timing. I feel this time, this team has the potential to do well in all the formats, irrespective of where we are playing. People keep debating as to who is a good captain, who is a bad captain and who is the best captain, but I think this team has the potential, when it comes to winning games, they should win games more than any other captain or team has won. Because that’s the kind of potential that they’ve got. You look at the kind of talent and the age-group they are in , if everything goes well, they have the potential to play well for the next 10 or 12 years, if not more. We have a pool of bowlers who can bowl well in any condition. Why pool is important is because, if a few of them get injured, all of a sudden you are not in a dilemma as to who is the strike bowler. It goes across formats. It gives the team the opportunity.
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger
And specially Virat, starting from Champions Trophy. To win the Champions Trophy in England. I felt it was the right time to move on. If I would’ve stayed till the Champions Trophy, nothing much changes. A lot of people were like why did I quit mid-series in Australia, but you have to look at the bigger picture, what is more beneficial. One more game into my numbers, doesn’t make a lot of difference. But, since Saha was there, he gets a chance to play one more game in Australia. And if everything goes well, he will be the person to be going on foreign tours, so he has that exposure. And Virat also has the same kind of exposure.
You’ve created quite a legacy in limited-overs. Do you think it will be tough for Virat to live up to it?
If it is about the numbers, I think Virat and this team will win more games than me in all the formats. When it comes to taking cricket how it is played, the whole pool of players seem to be ones who will play cricket in the right spirit, the way it is supposed to be. It doesn’t seem like there are some individuals who may break the laws on the field. I feel this will be the most successful Indian cricket team ever, on a consistent basis. Because that’s the kind of potential they have, that’s the kind of experience they have. Though they’re young, they’ve played a lot of cricket, both in India and outside, and in pressure situations. They have played in knockout tournaments and they’ve played under pressure. We’ve played a lot of Tests in India but they were not easy Test matches - we played on a lot of turning wickets where a lot of contribution was very important. At the end of the game you may see it as ‘okay we won by so many runs’ but actually it was much closer than what the scorecard really depicts. It has the recipe to do everything and I firmly believe this will be the team that will rewrite history, if you want to say it. I think they will do something very special in the coming years. Of course the period will be slightly longer, they will be together for a long period. Hoping no injuries or serious problems to the core members of the group, and they will do very well.
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