VM: Board sends out oblique message to Dhoni, Kohli (Column: Just Sport)

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has only been rested, so don’t read much into (Ajinkya) Rahane becoming captain. That’s what chief selector Sandeep Patil emphatically told the media after naming the Mumbaikar the India captain for three One-Day Internationals (ODI) and two Twenty20s in Zimbabwe.

Patil’s assertion is still open to debate even if there is nothing sinister about Rahane’s elevation. Conventional wisdom tells us that you normally turn to someone who has some captaincy experience as the selectors did in the past by handing over the reins to Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli for the tours to the West Indies, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.

Raina led the side to Zimbabwe in 2010 with Kohli as his deputy. The following year Dhoni was again rested, this time for the ODI tour of the West Indies soon after the World Cup in the subcontinent and an in-form Gambhir was the selectors’ choice for captaincy on the strength of his leading the side to a 5-0 whitewash of New Zealand at home, Raina being the second in command.

Last year, Kohli led the side to a 5-0 blanking of Sri Lanka, the worst-ever for the island-nation against India in the ODIs, when Dhoni was rested for the first three one-dayers. Dhoni sat out the last two games also with a hairline crack in his thumb that kept him out of the first Test in Australia.

Is Rahane’s promotion also the board and selectors’ way of conveying to Dhoni as well as Kohli that their war of statements in Bangladesh was unacceptable and also that the two should not take their positions for granted.

The operative part of Patil’s reasoning to pick Rahane as captain for the ODI series after being benched in the last two games in Bangladesh is that the selectors are happy with the way Rahane’s “career is shaping up. He has been the most consistent batsman for India and we want to see his other aspects. So, we have given him this opportunity and we will keep backing him”.

What does Patil mean by saying “we will keep backing him”. Is he inferring that Rahane is the man to go to in case Dhoni and Kohli do not stop shooting their mouth off?

There has been a pattern in the selectors’ thinking. When Kohli took over after Dhoni all of a sudden decided to quit Test cricket playing in Australia, enough hints were dropped by the so-called sources close to the board that in-form batsman Rahane or off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin would stand-in for new captain Kohli in case the necessity arose.

If given a choice, Rahane might have preferred to be India ‘A’ captain in place of Chetweshwar Pujara so that he could benefit from his mentor Rahul Dravid as coach, but now he is destined for bigger things. Curiously, the selectors’ hint to Kohli, who dropped Pujara for the one-off Test against Bangladesh, is to make the Saurashtra batsman the captain of the ‘A’ side.

The selectors must be hoping that Rahane bats in the middle order and scores heavily at a faster clip to prove a point instead of scoring big run as an opener, justifying Dhoni’s contention that he cannot rotate strike batting at No.4 or 5 on slow pitches. But then the pitches in Harare have a spongy bounce and the team has two regular openers Murali Vijay and Robin Uthappa, who will also keep wickets.

Ashwin will also be unhappy, not for resting him but for going back to Harbhajan Singh as his replacement. Actually, the selectors should have picked Harbhajan for the one-dayers and not the Test. Obviously, one captain wanted him and the other was happy with Ashwin.

The other question cropping up is the role of the selectors. There was a time when they went on overseas tours to help the team management unofficially in the selection of the playing eleven, though the job is essentially done by the tour management committee. The selectors, however, were at hand to make suggestions in selecting the Test eleven at home.

During N. Srinivasan’s time as the BCCI chief, the selectors were barred from going overseas and now in a Tughlaqian way, the new regime sent not one but two selectors – Roger Binny and Vikram Rathour – to Bangladesh. If the selectors had no role to play in the selection have they gone there, for an all-paid holiday or to gather inputs for the next selection committee meeting?

Board secretary Anurag Thakur has had to answer questions on Lalit Modi, the IPL and corruption in it – and he was shrewd enough to tackle them all. He knows it’s just the beginning and he will have plenty to speak on soon, as Srinivasan said Thakur is the man running Indian cricket today.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at v.srivatsa@ians.in)

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