Does the team need a “mentally weak” player?


I am either quite unhappy with MS Dhoni or in sheer awe of him, and I am not able to decide which of the two states I ought to be in! Indeed, I don’t believe I know which of these two states I am in! For the first time since Dhoni took over the captaincy role, I accept unabashedly that I am utterly and totally confused.

I have a lot of time and a lot of respect for MS Dhoni. He is cool, calm and collected. He seems to have plenty of time on his hands and rarely gets ruffled, even when adversity stares at him. He gets the best out of his players. He is a “straight talk” captain who gets the best out of his “seniors” as well as “juniors” in the team.

Dhoni took on the captaincy mantle after Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble had built the foundation on which this current teams’ edifice stands. Dhoni has stood on these impressive shoulders and crafted his own style of leadership; one that makes him, in my view, the best captain India has ever had.

In his captaincy, Dhoni calmly and easily demonstrates the flair and the “one of the boys” style of leadership of Sourav Ganguly. Dhoni will always be one of the boys. He will never appear or be aloof. Like Ganguly, he will back his players who are “down”. In an early selection meeting he is reported to have said that if his voice/needs will not be heard at selection meetings, he may as well not turn up! He backs his players in the manner of Ganguly.

He also possesses the steel of Rahul Dravid that requires you to be calm in the face of extreme pressure. Dravid has that inner calm as a batsman that comes from both ability as well self-confidence. It also comes from him relishing a fight. These qualities earned him the moniker, “The Wall”. He brought a “no emotion” steel to the captaincy; a steely resolve that made him declare the India innings close when Sachin Tendulkar was on 194; a dogged resolve that made India not go for a win in The Oval because a 1-0 win in England was more coveted! His was a “no emotion” captaincy that drew mainly on his own inner confidence. Dhoni has that too. He is supremely confident of himself. This makes him burn any anxieties inside him. He rarely yells, stomps, glares and huffs on the field — and believe me, this team that he leads gives him plenty of opportunity to do all of that, and more!

Dhoni also possesses the upright earnestness of Kumble, who brought a certain dignity to the Team India captaincy. Kumble, by sheer dint of his dedication, resolve, commitment, professionalism and contribution was unblemished. He had no dark spot on his resume. He expected the same level of pre-game preparation and commitment from his team and got it too. Dhoni has that quality too. He circles away from controversy and seems to have an instinctive feel for the right things to do and the right places to be at. More importantly, he seems to have an instinctive feel for the things he must avoid! He does his thing and he does it well. In a country where the press continually bay for blood, Kumble would have nothing of it because he led a lifestyle away from the night-lights and trance music. For Dhoni to stay away from the trash talk columns while demonstrating a liking for the high-life is indeed quite commendable. He is able to do it because, in my view, he has that Kumble-like quality for dedication, commitment and professionalism to his task on hand. He takes his profession, his art and his talent extremely seriously.

So I do like him as a captain of Team India. If Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble laid the various foundation stones for India’s ascent to the terrace — along with the architects in John Wright and Gary Kirsten — Dhoni is the one that has actually taken the team closer to the terrace.

Regardless of the outcome of this World Cup, I think he will be one of India’s best captains ever — in my book.

So, why am I either unhappy or in awe of MS Dhoni? Why am I confused?

The reason is not Piyush Chawla, but Dhoni’s reason for Chawla’s inclusion in the match against The Netherlands.

Dhoni says, “We are still supposed to give Ashwin a chance, he deserves a place, so he will feature in one of the teams [that will play in the group stages].”

No. The team does not owe any player anything. The team is not supposed to give anyone any chances! The team contains the elite; the best in India. Hence, it is not a socialist republic where everyone “deserves a chance”. But let me give Dhoni some rope and assume that he said, “We will give Ashwin a game, he deserves a place…”

That is still fine by me, especially since he also said in the same press meet, “basically you have to see which was the player that needed this game most, rather than the team needing the player. I felt it was Piyush, who needed this game much more than Ashwin.”

This is sound logic, in my view. Ashwin did not need this game to get game-ready. Piyush Chawla needed the game. So it makes sense that this experiment is carried out in a low-stakes game, earlier in the tournament.

Therefore, even though I have continually mocked the “Ashwin is on the bench today because he is mentally strong” line of thinking by MS Dhoni on Twitter (@mohank) I actually accept that line of thinking.

If all we want is to strengthen the “currently mentally weak” by giving them an opportunity in Team India colors, several people (ranging from Suresh Kalmadi to Kamran Akmal) would be queuing up for a gig! Ok. I am being facetious, but that’s all I can be in my current “mentally not so strong state”!

More seriously though, I accept the principle that a mentally strong person can warm the bench while we strengthen a person who is mentally weak currently.

However, that acceptance is strongly based on the condition that the team actually needs the player who is in the current “mentally weak state“!

I had no problems with the team giving extended opportunities to Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir in their “mentally or physically weak” states — both initially (in the times of Ganguly) and more recently. These players have that something in them that inspires confidence; confidence that they will surmount their current problems and reach that higher state of preparedness. They have won matches for India on their own. They have demonstrated talent, ability, guts, determination, resolve and fight. And when they go through dips in form or confidence, the team has to carry them along. So I have no problems with the team “carrying” a few players who appear to be in a mentally weak state currently.

Mainly because there is strong evidence to suggest that (a) that mentally strong state exists for the player under question, and (b) when that player reaches that mentally strong state, he becomes a match winner!

The above conditions — (a) and (b) — are strong prerequisites for “carrying” a mentally weak player in my view. So I think I am being fair, as a fan, to apply these tests on Piyush Chawla before I see whether the team needs to “carry” him.

I believe I am being more than fair when I see that these tests are being applied to a player who upsets the current team balance maximally. So, in my book, there is a third condition that a mentally weak player has to satisfy: (c) The “mentally weak” player who is being “carried” cannot destroy team balance.

In other words, I believe that while it is fine for this current Team India to carry a “mentally weak” batsman who exhibits conditions (a) and (b) above, it borders on professional negligence for the team management to carry a “mentally weak” bowler who does not exhibit conditions (a) and (b) above. This is because the current team is, in my view, imbalanced as a result of her weak bowling attack.

So, even though we have (c) being demonstrated through Chawla’s inclusion at the cost of Ashwin, I would be happy to ignore that constraint as long as (a) and (b) are satisfied. In other words, while I do not mind Chawla’s mind being sharpened and strengthened during the course of an important competition, the question I would like to ask is whether there is much use of such strengthening and sharpening.

I do not see Chawla emerging as a mentally strong player. I am not convinced that that state exists for Chawla. And even if it does (that is, even if condition (a) is satisfied) I am an not sure whether Chawla will become a match-winner in the Zaheer Khan or Suresh Raina or Yuvraj Singh mould! So the question I ask is “why bother” especially when you have an admittedly mentally strong and match ready player on the bench?

Hence my current confusion.

And yes, for the first time since he took over the mantle of captaincy, I am quite unhappy with MS Dhoni. However, as I said in my opening, it is likely that his continued confidence in Chawla will infuse me with awe at his amazing foresight! He must see in Chawla something that I do not (or refuse to) see. Given this, I accept that I am utterly confused.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

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13 responses to “Does the team need a “mentally weak” player?

  1. Well argued, Mohan. But I am not unhappy with Dhoni. He appears to be a sound tactician, and a brave captain. Remember Joginder Singh and the last over in the 20-20 final against Pakistan? I suspect Ashwin will be unleashed in the knockout games. For all you know, that might be one of the things this World Cup will be remembered for.

  2. @Krishna: As I say, I am quite happy to be surprised. I am quite happy to be in awe of Dhoni if there is a method to this apparent madness. Logic suggests though that there is nothing about Ashwin that warrants an unleashing? He is not Malinga, Tait or Ajantha Mendis? So what are we unleashing if not our own collective stupidity? I remain confused…

  3. Pingback: Does the team need a “mentally weak” player? | i3j3Cricket :: A … | Ruchit Shah

  4. I believe that Leggies could be quite useful against certain teams and in certain conditions. I think, Dhoni is doing his best to get Chawla ready for such situations. Too much is being read into some of his answers

  5. Good leggies Paddy. Not any ole’ leggie. Good leggies… yes.

  6. Mohan
    You spoke (wrote) for 1.5 billion followers of Indian cricket – I like the Dhoni=Ganguly+Dravid+Kumble+?(as of now). What is more reason for teh state of confusion in all of us is that Ashwin is fromCSK and MSD does not hesitate using him to open the innings because he has so much confidence in him. Isn’t it a good startegy to win convincingly all the group matches than scraping thru with Piyush in his current Avatar? I guess the selection for the SA match will tell us if we have to continue to be in the confused state or the question mark in the equation above can be removed. Let us hope that does happen. Is there any way you can get MSD to read this piece and get a response “Well of course…..”

  7. Like Ganguly, he will back his players who are “down”

    Well, let’s see what Sreesanth thinks about that.

  8. @Genghis — Well, he did back Sreesanth, did he not? The man is in the team! He played against RSA. He supported Sreesanth through his on-field antics, demonstrating oodles of patience.

  9. Too good article man, great work keep it up…

    As long as dhoni wins matches for India, there is no need to question his tactics, team is doing well, who knows chawla may click at the right moment.

  10. bala balachandran

    i agree with mohan of his analysis about dhoni. having been seeing him from his entry into indian team, in my opinion, “luck” has been one of his major contributor many times. His batting, compared to when he entered into the team to now, it has considerably deteriorated and he doesn’t feel either confident or his strokes any trustworthy. Having watched ball-by-ball of yesterdays match with SA, it was pathetic to get bundled out for 27 runs losing 9 wickets in few overs. The TOI blog today summarises of how Indian team’s chances in WC and I strongly feel Ashwin and Raina should be in from now on, regardless of who is left out – possibly, Nehra a must.
    Let us hope sense prevails in the head of Dhoni to make the team perform better and best from now on…..

  11. Dhoni is confusing us more with the team selection policies. Ashish Nehra over Ashwin?

  12. I don’t see why we should be restricted to 11 on field, there has to be some home ground advantage – that will solve these issues. Mera B mahan!!

  13. Poor Ashwin, he is like his mate Badri…!

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