MS Dhoni of India in action during the first T20 match between India and New Zealand at Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi on Nov 1, 2017. (Photo: Surjeet Yadav/IANS)
Seldom does one come across a captain making it a habit of praising his predecessor. And all the former players who played with either or both differ on Mahendra Singh Dhoni playing in the shortest format, Twenty20, advancing different reasons.
It all started with former cricketers Venkata Sai Laxman, Ajit Agarkar and Akash Chopra opposing the continuance of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the Twenty20 format after his glaring "failure to pushing things" in the second of the three-match T20 series aginst New Zealand at Rajkot, resulting in India losing by 40 runs.
All the three have put forth different reasons, but their solution is the same, that it's time Dhoni made way for a youngster to gain international experience. One of them thought that he has no place in the team as a batsman, now that he is not the captain and another felt by pulling out of the shortest format he could prolong his One-Day career.
Ranged against them are Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and skipper Virat Kohli himself who all vehementaly differed with the critics, advancing equally valid arguments.
The one man who smartly took the middle path is Virender Sehwag who, while backing his former captain's selection, wants him to "realise his role" in the team.
The stoutest and the most logical defence of Dhoni, pulling no punches, came from Gavaskar, who was furious at people blaming Dhoni for the Rajkot defeat when the entire team was responsible.
One of Gavaskar's pet theories is people invariably go at a player touching 30 years and are charitable to youngsters who may not have anything to show by way of performance for long stretches. Expectedly, he picked on Hardik Pandya failing to pick leg-spinner Ish Sodhi in successive matches or, for that matter, the openers doing little in Rajkot.
The critics also seem to forget that not long ago Dhoni won a match in the company of No.10 Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, adding 100 runs in Sri Lanka and also the way he rescued India against Australia with Pandya in the first ODI a couple of months ago.
More than Dhoni, the team management must decide where he should bat. Imagine any other player in the team getting pushed like Dhoni had been anywhere between No 4 and No 7 positions. They fancifully call him, as also Pandya, a "floater". Still, they say they are looking for a "finisher".
Should Dhoni quit T20 as suggested by some of his former team-mates? It all depends on his place in the ODIs. If he is good enough to play ODIs he must play T-20s also so that he stays match-fit, now that there are most T20s these days. Playing only the Tests is different from playing only one of the shorter formats. It might work for youngsters, but certainly not for those in Dhoni's age and stage of career.
Kohli and Shastri gave it back to the critics equally forcefully. Kohli echoed Gavaskar's opinion when he said that Dhoni is being unfairly targeted. He is correct he is not questioned even if he fails in three matches in a row because he is not 35 whereas afer only one failure they say Dhoni's time is up!
Kohli said in clear words that he and Dhoni know what's happening out in the middle and they understand what's best for each and every player.
Ravis Shastri is also equally forthright, describing Dhoni the ultimate team man. He dubbed people who want him out as jealous, waiting for him to fail and end his international career.
Bhuvaneshwar added his bit: No one is bothered (about criticism), he is a legend and his what he is doing benefits the team.
Shastri hs the last word: Great players like Dhoni decide their own future.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)