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ICC World Cup 2019: Time for Dhoni to Step Up for Kohli, like Tendulkar did for Dhoni

Karthik Lakshmanan |July 2, 2019, 2:47 PM IST
ICC World Cup 2019: Time for Dhoni to Step Up for Kohli, like Tendulkar did for Dhoni

Birmimgham: There are a couple of scenes from MS Dhoni's biopic, 'The Untold Story', that tell a lot about his relationship with Sachin Tendulkar. The first one shows a young Dhoni urging his mother to buy him a poster of Tendulkar which he spots in a fare amid posters of gods. His father doesn't like the idea, but Dhoni gets the poster stuck on his wall - that's the last thing he sees before sleeping, and the first he sees while waking up.

The next is a brief scene of Dhoni watching the 2003 World Cup final between India and Australia, with colleagues in his Railways accommodation. He watches with intent, even analysing pitch conditions when Tendulkar pulls Glenn McGrath for a boundary. But the moment Tendulkar is dismissed, Dhoni walks away to do other things.

Tendulkar is Dhoni's sporting hero. "Because of the aura he carries I still have difficulties speaking up to him outside a cricket field," Dhoni said in 2013, despite being a teammate for eight years.

The reverence was telling in the way Dhoni led Tendulkar in the fag end of the latter's career. It wasn't like Tendulkar needed anyone's support to stay in the side, but even when there were questions from the outside, Dhoni would be steadfast in support. Dhoni's one-day team had no place for Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, but Tendulkar remained a big part. Tendulkar stayed on in the one-day side even after the 2011 World Cup, with Dhoni even formulating an openers-rotation policy between Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar. After Tendulkar played his final Test, Dhoni led a 'mobile guard of honour'.

MS Dhoni and Sachin

In some ways, life has come a circle for Dhoni. It is him now who is the legendary senior figure in the dressing room. Virat Kohli is where Dhoni was a few years ago, leading the veteran big name in the end stages of his career.

The relationship Dhoni had with Tendulkar is quite different to the one Kohli has with Dhoni. For Dhoni, Tendulkar was paaji. The relationship was reverence. For Kohli, Dhoni is MS. The rest of the team calls him Mahi bhaai, but for Kohli he's always MS. In a YouTube chat show a couple of years back, Kohli called the relationship 'friendship' that has grown over the years.

The friendship has seen numerous lovely moments through the years; the two smiling at each other after Dhoni blocks the last ball of a penultimate over to allow Kohli to hit a winning shot, Kohli watching in awe Dhoni hitting Mitchell Starc for a six and diving full length to catch Carlos Brathwaite. The friendship even has a name on social media - 'Mahirat'.

In both cases, there could be a bit of gratitude too. It was Tendulkar who recommended Dhoni for captaincy before he took over. Kohli hardly needed recommendation, but Dhoni handed over the mantle smoothly across formats. Dhoni even backed Kohli in his starting days in Test cricket despite some early failures, most notably in the Australia tour of 2011-12.

In some ways, Dhoni backing Tendulkar was not as big a deal as Kohli backing Dhoni now. Tendulkar's batting was beyond question, apart from a brief while in 2006-07. Over the next five years, he averaged close to 50 in one-day cricket.

The same can't be said about Dhoni the batsman. Over the last two years, there have been multiple occasions where Kohli would have been justified had he chosen to look beyond Dhoni. Not many, apart from some outraging fans on social media, would have questioned had Kohli done to Dhoni what Dhoni, justifiably, did to other senior players.

A couple of years back, Kohli would have loved batting with Dhoni. They would run fast, calculate scores and chases and knock them down together. With Dhoni the batsman going on a decline, Kohli now hardly gets the strike when the two bat together in the middle overs.

MS Dhoni and Kohli 2

But Kohli trusted, and trusts, Dhoni to the hilt. He trusts him for DRS. He trusts him to handle captaincy when he fields in the deep. He trusts him for his inputs - an aspect of his game that's still as sharp as ever. Kohli leads with intensity, but Dhoni's effect on the team is telling. The percentage cricket India pride on playing is straight from the Dhoni school of play.

Like Tendulkar was in World Cup 2011, Dhoni is now close to 38. Even at that age, Tendulkar was at the peak of his powers in his primary role during that World Cup. He was the second highest run-scorer, setting the pace for India in the campaign. Dhoni won Tendulkar the World Cup final, but it was Tendulkar who got Dhoni till the final.

Dhoni is nowhere close to his peak in his primary role now. Every match is followed by questions over his approach, and even intent. Kohli has backed the veteran strongly every single time, as he has done in the last two years or so.

It's time for Dhoni to repay the faith and step up, like Tendulkar did for him eight years back.

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Cricket World Cup Points Table

9 7 1 1 15 +0.80
9 7 2 0 14 +0.86
9 6 3 0 12 +1.15
9 5 3 1 11 +0.17
9 5 3 1 11 -0.43
9 3 4 2 8 -0.91
9 3 5 1 7 -0.03
9 3 5 1 7 -0.41
9 2 6 1 5 -0.22
9 0 9 0 0 -1.32

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
see more