MS Dhoni has revealed that his reservations with split captaincy were a factor in his decision to give up the role of India’s limited-overs captain. Speaking at his first press conference since stepping down as India’s ODI and T20I captain last week, Dhoni said he had waited for his successor, Virat Kohli, to settle in as Test captain before making the decision.
“Right from the start, when I left Test captainship, I knew split captaincy doesn’t work in India, doesn’t work in our set-up,” he said at a press conference in Pune, where the first ODI against England will be played on Sunday. “I was waiting for the right time. I wanted Virat to ease into the Test format. With so many games, I feel he is right there. With this kind of decision, there is no wrong decision in it. It is just the timing. I feel this is the time.
“And specially Virat, starting from Champions Trophy, to win the Champions Trophy in England. I felt it was the right time to move on. If I would’ve stayed till the Champions Trophy, nothing much changes.”
Kohli had taken over as Test captain from Dhoni in December 2014, after Dhoni retired from the format during India’s tour of Australia in 2014-15.
Dhoni explained that the rationale behind quitting Test cricket midway through the tour was to give someone like Wriddhiman Saha, who was being groomed as the second wicketkeeper, greater exposure.
“A lot of people were like why did I quit mid-series in Australia, but you have to look at the bigger picture, what is more beneficial,” he said. “One more game into my numbers, it doesn’t make a lot of difference. But, since Saha was there, he gets a chance to play one more game in Australia. And if everything goes well, he will be the person to be going on foreign tours, so he has that exposure. And Virat also has the same kind of exposure.”
Dhoni said he would continue to be a de facto vice-captain in Kohli’s team by virtue of being the wicketkeeper. From his position behind the stumps, Dhoni felt he was well-placed to give the new captain counsel whenever required.
“I think the wicketkeeper is always a vice-captain of the side irrespective of whether he is announced vice-captain or not,” he said. “One thing is the field setting is usually given to the vice-captain or the wicketkeeper. In this scenario, I will have to keep a close eye as to what the skipper really wants, as to what are his preferential field positions.
“I already had this chat with Virat about how he likes his fielders, where he wants them to be. In the sense I have to be more aware of whether he wants a short third [man] fine or he wants it slightly wider because different people have different opinions. If you had a short third or a fine leg, I always preferred it closer to me so that it’s slightly more difficult for the batsman to play a shot to get it through the right side of the field. All of that I have to adapt, but overall I don’t think much changes.
“I will be there to give as many suggestions as possible to Virat as and when required. The field positioning is something I have to keep a close eye on. I will have to consult him and tell him because if it is strategically positioned in a particular place I can become a bit of a problem if I start moving around, but it’s not something that’s a big trouble to cope with. It’s just that I will have to keep a close eye, especially in the first few games, maybe a couple of games I can read the field positioning and everything and use it properly.”
In an insight into his methods as captain, Dhoni said his main job was to extract the best out of his players without unreasonable expectations of them. He said he played both good cop and bad cop when it came to handling players, and spoke of the importance of identifying match-winners and giving them a fair run. Dhoni didn’t take names, but he could well have been referring to players like Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja, who weren’t consistent initially but went on to establish themselves as key players in his tenure.
“The main job is to make sure that whatever is the potential of the player, he is performing to 100%,” he said. “Usually if you can achieve something between 90 to 110%, you know you’ve done really well.
“You can’t really get 150% performance from a player who is 80%. That’s where you have to be very practical, very honest. There are different ways to handle everyone: for some it is a kind word, for some it is a harsh word. For some it may be just an expression with your eyes. At times it may be the false confidence you give the guy because that is what is really needed at that point of time. You have to be clever enough to evaluate as to this is what is needed at that point of time.
“If you know the potential of the team, you can definitely make sure that they perform to the potential. You may face a few problems at times, say, you have two or three batsmen who are not performing at the same time [and] that maybe a hindrance. But, more often than not, you look at the bigger picture and say once it comes to the ICC events and the big tournaments and the knock-out stages, who is that person who can really win those big games for you. But, at the end of the day, you can give only a few games to an individual. Maybe two or three or four more games that is provided by the team if they are doing really well. Overall you can’t do much but you still need to have that faith.”
Dhoni said he did not have any regrets during his tenure, or in life – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – and stated there were several moments, good and bad, which brought a smile to his face. High on the list was how the team handled the period of transition following the retirements of Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag.
“When I started there were a lot of senior players in the side and as we progressed there was a time when the senior players had to leave and we had to make sure the transition is smooth,” he said. “The only good thing is over the period – once the seniors left us and the juniors came into the side – it is the same juniors who have started to do well.
“We invested in them and over the period they started proving they are the ones who will take the legacy forward when it comes to Indian cricket, so that was a very satisfying thing to see. Overall it was a journey I really enjoyed and it is something that brings a smile on your face whether it is the tough periods or the winning periods. Overall it is the journey that is more important.”