It’s been only four days since India won the cricket World Cup after a 28-year gap. The streets still carry the remnants of Saturday night firecrackers, the players are still recovering from a full night’s partying, and the controversy about the trophy is just beginning to die down. But the man who helmed the triumph is already looking ahead—and, more immediately, planning for the Indian Premier League (IPL) starting Friday.
“I don’t mind repeating all three all over again,” says Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, when asked if he thinks there is anything left to achieve as skipper since he has led the country to the 2007 Twenty20 world title, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) to the 2010 Indian Premier League (IPL) crown, and now India to the 50-over World Cup.
Winning streak: The Chennai Super Kings led by Dhoni after their triumph in the 2010 Indian Premier League. Hindustan Times
The captain under whose leadership India is perched atop the official Test rankings is already looking at the packed international calendar and his single major worry is player fatigue. He should know: During his match-winning knock in the final against Sri Lanka on Saturday, Dhoni cramped often and with pain writ large on his face, managed to defy fatigue to stay on till the end of the match.
“After the IPL, there is the full tour of the West Indies, then to England. And then (if we qualify), we play the Champions League and after a couple of tournaments, we go to Australia. It’s a busy schedule,” Dhoni says. “Because of the amount of cricket we play, it does affect performance. The physical aspects are still manageable, but one gets mentally tired and emotionally drained.
“It obviously will affect quite a few players who will be part of all the tournaments. We have played six months of continuous cricket and have a packed itinerary over the next season.”
On his last day in India, Tuesday, outgoing coach Gary Kirsten called Dhoni the best captain in the world and one of India’s great leaders. It’s a compliment that comes up often—Sachin Tendulkar too has described Dhoni as the best captain he has played under.
“The more you think, the more complex it becomes,” Dhoni says, on the difficult situations a captain faces during the course of a match. “We tried to keep it simple. We practised when it was needed and took rest when we thought we needed it. We strictly blocked out the hype around the World Cup in the subcontinent. The major thing was to keep the players fit till the business end of the competition. We kept it simple, backed each other and avoided unwanted pressure.”
Dhoni returns Tendulkar’s compliment, lending his support to the growing demand that the 37-year-old be bestowed with the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award, for his contribution to the game. “He’s the ideal candidate,” Dhoni says. “He has served the country for a long time. As a cricketer, if he doesn’t get it then no one else can get it.”
“It’s a great pleasure (to hear) what he said (about Dhoni’s captaincy),” says the Indian captain. “I have been honest since the time I have started playing cricket. I am also serving the nation like him.”
With Kirsten finishing his tenure as India coach and with India looking for his replacement, media reports suggest former Australian spinner Shane Warne might be interested in the job. The captain plays this question with a straight bat.
“Very interesting,” says Dhoni. “I don’t know about it. Gary Kirsten’s are big shoes to fill. What Gary has done to Indian cricket cannot be measured. The benchmark has been set really high. We will miss him, but he will miss us more because of the relationship he had with the team.”
India’s most successful captain is already plotting the Chennai Super Kings’ IPL campaign as they get set to defend their crown. The season kicks off on Friday with CSK taking on Kolkata Knight Riders at the Chidambaram stadium in Chennai.
The 2011 edition has two new franchises—Kochi and Pune. The league will now have 10 teams and the number of matches will go up from 60 to 74 during the 8 April-28 May event.
“It’s not about what we are on paper, but what we do on the field,” Dhoni said at a CSK news conference on Wednesday. “We have to start from scratch.”
CSK has retained four players, including Dhoni, from the first three seasons of the league but could not hold on to some critical players, such as the Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan. “We will miss him in the dressing room but once a player is out of the auction..., there’s not much that can be done,” says Dhoni.
Parthiv Patel’s presence in the team last year gave Dhoni the option of not keeping during the IPL; this time, CSK has Wriddhiman Saha as the second keeper.
“I have to take a call if I am willing to field one more wicketkeeper. I will take rest when it is needed. But professional cricket is not about taking rest. We will see how things go and take a decision,” says Dhoni.
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