Temblor at the MCG

The news of Dhoni’s retirement causes a flutter. Several questions pertaining to the incident are unanswered, and the chief among them is, is there any infighting in the side that prompts Dhoni to take this extreme step? By S. Dinakar.

No one sees it coming. The journalists are busy typing out their match reports on Day Five after what had been a pretty eventful third Test, when the BCCI press release arrives. One of the journalists reads out the news; many assume it is a practical joke. There is laughter all around.

Then the significance of it all sinks in. It is a bombshell — India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has retired from Test cricket with a match in the series remaining. The news throws everyone into a tizzy.

It’s rare that something like this happens on a tour. Here is a captain who leaves Test cricket midway through an overseas campaign, and not a single person has any inkling about it.

Questions of the difficult kind are bound to be raised. The Australian journalists, too, are taken aback. Only minutes earlier, Dhoni, in what must have been an emotional occasion for him, breezes through a lively post-match press conference, his smile and sense of humour intact.

Asked about the Aussies settling for a draw, with four overs remaining (India had four wickets in hand at that stage) Dhoni quips, “I had batted for 15 overs and was ready to bat for four more. Perhaps the Australians did not have the strength to bowl those four overs. That’s a very Australian type of answer I have given you!”

Dhoni, it must be said, is adept at masking his feelings — both on the field of play, when the pressure mounts, and probably while taking the biggest decision of his career. His face reveals absolutely nothing. Several questions are unanswered, and the chief among them is, is there any infighting in the side that prompts Dhoni to take this extreme step?

The official reason is that the load of leading the side, keeping wickets and batting is proving too much for Dhoni physically, and he now wants to concentrate on defending the ICC World Cup, beginning on February 14.

While there are occasions when Dhoni appears to be struggling physically while keeping wickets, many theories pertaining to his retirement from Test cricket are already doing the rounds. Was he having his way at the selection meetings? And when you have a captain and a Director of Cricket in the touring side, who has the final say? In other words, who is the boss?

Ravi Shastri’s appointment as the Director of Cricket in the Indian team is a new phenomenon. Traditionally, it has been the captain and the coach calling the shots, with the skipper having greater powers since he is the man taking decisions on the field.

The scenario now is as complex as Melbourne’s tramlines that snake through the city.

Meanwhile Dhoni shuts himself off from the press (he has locked himself up in his room at the team hotel). He makes a quick exit from the MCG after his session with the media and is not available for comments on his drastic decision. Many journalists rush to the team hotel for Dhoni’s reaction, but return disappointed. By now, it’s night time.

Dhoni’s decision, according to accounts that emerge, has been an instinctive one. He goes into the dressing room after playing a key role in helping India save the third Test, removes his pads and gloves, puts down his bat, and then tells his shocked team-mates that this would be his last Test. He also makes a quick call to the BCCI secretary, informing him of his decision. Despite last-ditch efforts to get him to change his mind, Dhoni sticks to his move.

The happenings at the MCG seem straight out of a Bollywood movie. There is a hint of intrigue, suspense and drama.

India’s most successful Test captain in terms of wins (27) quits without fanfare and farewell. He just picks up a stump as a souvenir after the action in the middle concludes and walks back.

For most part, the Boxing Day Test at the MCG is both riveting and tumultuous. There are charges and counter-charges too. Verbal sparks fly between Virat Kohli and Mitchell Johnson. Kohli accuses the Aussies of calling him “a spoilt brat.” He also says that Johnson did not respect him on the field, and he does not care much for the Aussie paceman.

While the proceedings in the match are hot, the chill winds which many locals say flow straight from Antarctica, sweep through Melbourne in the evenings, hitting you hard in the bones. Meanwhile, it is wonderful to catch up with former Australian captain, Bill Lawry. The lanky Lawry makes some telling cricketing points.

These old soldiers... they are evergreen.