Leeds, 8 July, 2019: In the grey sideburns lies his cricketing wisdom that Virat Kohli so banks upon and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who turned 38 on Sunday, is all pumped to empty his tank and buy himself the best birthday gift possible another World Cup triumph.
One of the freeze-frame moments of Indian cricket is Sunil Gavaskar raising Kapil Dev’s hands at the Lord’s balcony on June 25, 1983.
The best birthday present for Dhoni would certainly be Kohli and Rohit Sharma carrying their ‘skipper’ on a lap of honour at the Mecca of Cricket.
That is if India make it to the final and then go the distance. Also, that is only if Dhoni sheds off his reluctance to let the emotions flow on what could be the most poignant day of his fascinating career.
“We might celebrate his birthday on the bus on our way to Manchester,” Rohit Sharma said when a vernacular journalist kept on funnily ‘probing’ the Indian vice-captain to say something on the legend’s birthday.
Skipper Kohli has time and again reiterated that Dhoni remains “his captain”, and it is no different in this whole Indian team set-up where the he enjoys unstinted support.
The team is insulated from all the talk surrounding his waning abilities as a batsman and the players trust their ‘mentor’.
He remains the good old banyan tree under which the players find their shade and, at times, a bit of warmth, when professional sport becomes ruthless and lonely.
Whether its Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal being tonked by Jonny Bairstow or Angelo Mathews launching into Bhuvneshwar Kumar, they know that someone would sprint those 30 yards from behind the stumps, put an arm around their shoulder, and may be whisper a couple of words.
It works like magic on occasions. On occasions, it’s just an assurance with unspoken words, ‘Don’t worry, you belong here’.
Mohammed Shami disclosed after his hat-trick against Afghanistan that Dhoni’s suggestion to bowl yorker was spot on. Kohli’s conditioned reflex is to look behind the stumps for approval while taking a decision review.
He does it for the team and no wonder they are all ready to cast a protective shield around their captain at the slightest hint of criticism about his recent batting approach.
Any reaction sought about Dhoni’s form is met with various counter-reactions nonchalance by Ravi Shastri, shock by Sanjay Bangar, or, at worst, irritation by Kohli, depending on who’s answering that question.
It’s not a planned strategy. Perhaps, it’s more to do with the kind of respect he commands in that Indian change room.
India are within sniffing distance of winning another World Cup. And more than anything else now, the team would not mind a return gift for the next one week Dhoni’s wisdom.