15 Apr 2019 17:45 IST

It’s kolaveri da, plain and simple!

When the unflappable Dhoni flaps his cool, all hell breaks loose on the media circuit

So Captain Cool lost his cool and suddenly he’s not so hot any more? Get over it, already! For nearly 21 days from the start of IPL 2019, the media has been lionising Captain Cool MS Dhoni, be it his ability to hit sixes or lead CSK out from the jaws of defeat or rotate the bowling or just horse around with the baccha party (remember the photograph of him carrying Imran Tahir’s little son?).

Honestly, even for die-hard Dhoni fans, it’s been a little too much. It’s embarrassing, really, to see the way sports and other writers have been bending over backwards singing his praises to the extent that nothing he ever did hit the wrong note. Until April 11.

What happened

Only eight runs remained to decide who would win the Rajasthan Royals-Chennai Super Kings fixture in Jaipur. Dhoni had just got out and Ben Stokes bowled the next ball to the new batsman, Santner. The umpire at the bowling end signalled a no ball, but this was contradicted by the square leg umpire, clearly leading to a confusing situation because the batsman would have not only taken his cue from the signal, it would have meant that CSK got one extra ball to take a shot at. What the umpires were doing was revoking the no ball after the fact, and that’s what the batsmen at the crease were protesting and that’s what prompted Dhoni to literally storm on to the field to question the decision, to everybody’s shock and horror. This is not done. No one, not even the captain, is allowed to step into the field of play while the action is on.

Clearly, what Dhoni did was wrong and he should have been given the maximum punishment, at the very least banned from playing the next two matches. What happened was he was docked 50 per cent of the match fees and since this incident, CSK has played another match, again stealing victory from the jaws of defeat. But the mood in the cricketing fraternity is all ‘get the guy,’ and the media have still not stopped talking about Dhoni’s infraction, even going so far as to suggest that he has such powerful supporters among the boss brigade that nobody dare come down more heavily on him.

No doubt the tirade is expected, but it also reflects the petty nature of tirades such as this, in general. First, you make a god of someone, then, overnight, you demolish them. And it’s all the work of the media. Not Dhoni, not Kohli, not Tendulkar, not Harbhajan, not Sreesanth… they do what they do, they react the way they do. But the spin comes from the media. And this applies to all aspects of life and work. Somebody is media darling today, whipping boy tomorrow. That’s all. No room for reasonable doubt, there.

Was Dhoni the only one at fault?

In this particular instance, yes, the reaction was unexpected and unacceptable. But so was the decision in the middle: unexpected and unacceptable. Hence, the reaction. It could be the heat of the moment. It could be a spontaneous response to blatant unfairness. It could be a show of support for the team. It could be an expression of leadership.

The quantum of punishment could be influenced by several factors, not least he who is being punished. He could be strong. He could be powerful. He could have friends in high places. He could have a history of good behaviour. Any and all of these factors could tilt the balance. It was up to the match referee to deliver the judgment according to the level of the misdemeanour. For whatever reason, he decided what he decided. If it was out of fear, then he shouldn’t be match referee any more. If it was objective, good for the CSK captain and sour grapes for all those baying for his blood.

 

Few know better how to conduct themselves on the sporting field than MS Dhoni and no one will know better than he himself that what he did contravened the spirit of sportsmanship. After all, he has often ticked off his own players for overreacting or misbehaving in the course of play.

In this context, it wouldn’t be out of place to spare a few moments to reflect on Virat Kohli. Some weeks ago, I criticised Virat Kohli’s explicit aggression on the field, saying that as captain of the team (India, in that instance), he needed to lead by example not just as a player but also by his behaviour. This IPL season he and his team, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, have been so down and out, that average cricket fans must be vastly relieved at their having at last put points on the board.

Everyone makes mistakes

People are human. Those in the public eye are people too, except that they draw attention and are the subject of conversation and criticism, adulation and fandom. Their personal lives are analysed threadbare and one failure can dismantle a whole life of success. No wonder most are quite happy pocketing their fees and taking the safe ride home. We have no right to call them out on that. However, only some of them have the guts to lead — by example or by exhortation. Now, that takes exceptional self-belief and absolute courage. They make mistakes because they are, when all is said and done, people too. That’s why an article in a leading newspaper calling out Virat Kohli for being the best but not worthy of greatness was problematic.

 

Like I said, I am not exactly a Kohli fan, but to say that to achieve greatness, “Kohli must crack the Tendulkar code” is unfair. Yes, Tendulkar was a great player, gifted and tenacious, lovely to watch, and not always on the winning side. And certainly not captaincy material. Kohli, on the other hand, has probably had to work much harder but he too is tenacious, lovely to watch and has been steering the ship since the time he was captain of India’s under-19 team that won the World Cup in 2008. Besides, he leads by example and if wearing his heart on his sleeve makes him passionate and aggressive, well, so be it.

To say, “Kohli may be a better batsman, may have scored more victories and runs, and has a beautiful and glamorous wife, but the difference between both the players is that the Little Master is considered one of the all-time greats” in a way that suggests that Virat Kohli is going around proclaiming he’s the greatest is not only ridiculous, but petty. And why bring his wife into the picture? This is entirely the work of the media, words and opinions thrown into gossip-space and churned into chat that is full of sound and fury that signifies nothing.

Personally, I think the younger Tendulkar during a certain phase in his career was superb but he is no challenger to Don Bradman. But that’s my opinion, the spin doctors tell other tales. That’s their opinion. All I know is that Virat Kohli is human. And now we know that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is human too. That, in a way, is comforting to know.

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