Raju on M.S. Dhoni: 'One has to keep playing and performing to be in contention'

As uncertainty looms over M.S. Dhoni’s future, Venkatapathy Raju, admits that it does get challenging for a player to return to the Indian team after a gap.

MS Dhoni had over a two hour-long stint at the centre wicket practice on Tuesday evening.

MS Dhoni during a training session in Chennai.   -  K Pichumani

V.V.S. Laxman’s epic 281 against Australia at Eden Gardens in March 2001, was a landmark moment for Indian cricket. Pairing with Rahul Dravid, Laxman not only helped India fight back, but also left a strong message for the cricketing community.

Even after almost two decades, that historic innings is cherished by Laxman’s friends and the fans. Ask S.L. Venkatapathy Raju -- the left-arm spinner, who was part of the Indian team in that series -- and he still remembers each and every moment from that iconic Test.

“The atmosphere inside the dressing room was tense as we watched the game. Our coach John Wright came to us and said, ‘Go out and enjoy the action. Do not on watch it on the television. You may witness something truly special’…” a nostalgic Raju tells Sportstar.

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“We are privileged to be part of that team which gave a new direction to Indian cricket and showed the Aussies and the world that we are capable of playing a different brand of cricket,” says the 50-year-old Raju, for whom it was the last Test of his career.

“Well, in the first innings when I was batting with VVS, our manager Chetan Chauhan and the then selector Madan Lal came to us and told about how they have saved a couple of Tests from seemingly hopeless situations…”

I remember getting Wasim Akram out off the last ball of my spell, says Venkatapathy Raju.   -  Nagara Gopal

 

“And, we were surprised when Laxman confidently said that we would win the Test match. Those words changed our mindset and gave us the confidence that we can try and change the course of the game. Hats off to Laxman and Dravid for their great batting. And of course, because of Harbhajan Singh's brilliant bowling, we could go on to win the Test,” Raju says.

The former Hyderabad captain also acknowledges the fact that it was the then India skipper, Sourav Ganguly, who played the key role by backing the players to the hilt. “I remember Harbhajan was struggling before that Test series and I was coming back to the team after three years. And, look how Bhajji performed! I think he bowled the best of his career then,” says Raju.

On personal front, it was a disappointing campaign for Raju, but then, he did scalp the wicket of Mark Waugh.

After hanging up his boots, Raju was part of the national selection committee and during his tenure, the panel -- headed by Dilip Vengsarkar -- picked M.S. Dhoni as the captain of the Indian team. “Well, the guiding principle of the panel was simple - only consistent performers and match-winners will be considered for selection. We could do this because we watched most of the matches with focus on certain fringe players, who could go on to play for India. This is where the India-A series
concept really helped us,” he admits.

“So, when it came to naming Dhoni the captain, he was the only one performing under pressure. His calmness and the way he handled things impressed all of us. It was a unanimous decision by the panel and we decided to go with him,” says Raju.

“The other reason being many of the players, who were senior to him, were coming back from injuries or long breaks. So, we thought Dhoni was the best option and now we have no regrets given his phenomenal achievements as a player and a leader,” he says.

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“Again, it is important to note that we made Anil Kumble, the Test captain for the 2007 Australian tour, which proved to be a wise decision, given the way he handled the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ scandal in the company of late Dr MV Sridhar (administrative manager of the Indian team on the tour to Australia),” he adds.

Now, as uncertainty looms over Dhoni’s future, one wonders if Raju was a selector, would he have picked Dhoni in the side?

“Any player has to keep playing and performing to be in the contention. Be it domestic, India-A series or any other competitive cricket. You don’t have to prove to others, but prove to yourself that you belong there,” Raju says.

“Playing international cricket is never easy. It demands a different level of fitness and skills. For that, you have to be in the thick of it. I remember how I struggled coming back into Indian team after a three-year gap because of the totally different kind of intensive training in the Indian team as compared to playing Ranji or other first-class tournaments,” he signs off.

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