The previous week seems to be the one to have witnessed the passing of quite a few batons. Men’s Tennis might have seen it on Sunday (a bit too early to call, admittedly), the Left parties passed the baton of the support to the Congress led UPA to the SP, and Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar passed one to Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The news paper headlines screamed that Pepsi had decided not to continue with SRT as its brand ambassador. His endorsement contract which had expired was not renewed. A couple of reasons were assigned to it by unnamed sources. SRT’s endorsement fees were deemed to be “too steep” AND Pepsi wanted to focus on the younger generation, who they felt, would not be attracted by him. Pepsi had earlier dropped Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly as its brand ambassadors as well. Informal estimates now put MSD as a higher earner through endorsements than even Mr. Tendulkar.
Given the current happenings in the world of Indian cricket, this didn’t come as bolt from the BLUE. Youngsters are ruling the world of limited and super limited cricket in India and the veterans are sidelined (?) to play Test cricket. The Indian audience wants it staple diet of limited overs cricket and it identifies with the game of the ‘youth’. The brands obviously want men/boys who are under constant public glare and hence the abovementioned fallout. Demographics are the name of the game.
A few hours later MSD conveyed his wish to be rested for the Test match Series in Sri Lanka citing fatigue from playing incessant cricket over the past 15 months. And there was no doubting the veracity of his statement. From Jan 01, 2007 MSD played 14 tests, 55 ODIs and 9 T20 matches, which amounts to a possible 134 days spent on the field playing international matches. He also played 16 IPL games captaining the Chennai Superstars team in the IPL league. One is ignoring the Ranji trophy/ Challenger tournaments that he participated in during that time frame. To put things in perspective, he captained and kept in 39 of the matches in the smaller version of the game and captained in a test match as well. The pressure that was being soaked up by MSD was enormous. He raised his misgivings about the back to back matches scheduled at the Asia cup at a press conference. The BCCI immediately jumped on his statements suggesting that any player feeling overworked should opt for a rest. Its reaction was too swift, too sharp and not in good taste. The guy was only complaining about back to back matches. But being MSD, he converted this threat into an opportunity and conveyed his decision to rest during the SL tour.
This is one of the rare occasions in the annals of Indian cricket when an Indian cricketer has voluntarily rested by himself. And that too for a test match series. It’s a reflection on the confidence of the man and also on the consistency of the selection process. Just a few years back, this step would be looked upon as a career limiting move, but no more.
While saluting the tireless efforts of the ODI captain and his need to have some rest, one has an uncomfortable, niggling doubt at the back of one’s mind. The timing of the ‘rest’ and the occasion seem to be like a typical MSD shot. Powerful, but lacking grace.
MSD’s step has reopened the simmering debate of playing for the country v/s playing for money and the priorities of the post modern cricketer in terms of Test cricket v/s the smaller format. To further complicate matters, maybe even a ‘seniors’ v/s ‘young turks’ cold war has been alleged by some parts of the media.
One has not heard of any formal communication between MSD and the current test captain and whether there was any discussion about his decision. Being the vice-captain of the test team makes it even more imperative for getting the captain’s nod. MSD may have had the captain’s go ahead, but one hasn’t heard of any such newsflash from the ever vigilant media.
Another question that is left unanswered as of now has been Dhoni’s availability for the SL ODI tour. Now that is a million dollar question (frankly given the current numbers thrown around as remuneration to cricketers and the depreciation of the USD, it should be a ‘billion’ dollar question). If MSD indeed joins the ODI team in SL, it will throw up a lot of uncomfortable questions. Does his being the ‘captain’ of the ODI team matter in his decision making? Is he giving more importance to the limited version of the game?
Being a ‘professional’ player, Dhoni has every right to make his future secure. So one is not even getting into a debate of whether he should have skipped IPL to get his ‘rest’. Though one still has doubts about the reasons for his playing as a wicket keeper for a major part of the IPL tournament even when Parthiv Patel was a regular in the Chennai team.
This decision throws up a few questions for the future to the selectors as well. Will they have a candid chat with MSD about his future as a potential test captain? What happens if Dinesh Karthik performs splendidly in the tests? Will the selectors have the guts to drop MSD? He has, by no stretch of imagination, been the MVP of the Indian test team. They have to decide whether this fact is acting as a motivator or otherwise on him.
In India, when the going is good, especially in cricket, everything one does is turned a blind eye to. A possibly ‘selfish’ decision is hailed as a ‘brave’ one. Dropping senior players out of the 30 probables for champions trophy is termed as ‘forward looking’. Players attending fashion shows and parties and ad shoots, is a photo op. One feels it’s better to be a cynic in rosy times rather than being one in disastrous ones. Look at all those brave souls on CNBC who talked about Sensex touching 40k when it was at 21k.
Sachin Tendulkar might have passed the baton to MSD in terms of endorsement contracts. But maybe in terms of his legacy as a ‘brand’, if this is the passing of the baton, one reserves the judgment on whether it has indeed passed in the right hands.
Posted by Rahul