Of course he gets plenty of practice because those skills have to be sharp if you’re going to handle the voracious and often left-field demands of an Indian cricket media that is every bit as obsessed with their national team as the millions of people they keep informed in the second most populous country on earth.
India have come to South Africa in controversial circumstances with their tour cut to three ODIs and two Tests, and the players may well have to deal with the backlash from a South African public who feel angry and humiliated by the arrogance of the BCCI in dictating appointments here.
India arrived in Johannesburg on Monday and were asked about how they would handle a famously fiery Wanderers crowd that may well take out their frustrations on the visitors on the field on Thursday night.
Dhoni handled the “yorker” with sumptuous ease, as if he was playing one of his famous “helicopter shots” and dispatched the delivery over long-on for six.
“Maybe we should arrange a match for the administrators and let them go at it!” was his opening remark, immediately breaking the ice and getting the amused media on his side.
“The relationship has always been good between the South African and Indian players, there’s a bit of chirping to make things interesting, but it has never crossed the line and become too personal.
“If the crowd starts abusing us, maybe we’ll give it back! But we’ve played the Champions Trophy, Champions League and T20 World Cup here and we’ve always had a fantastic reception and I don’t think that will change,” Dhoni said, all with a disarming Bollywood smile.
But the atmosphere surrounding the current tour is very different to all the previous visits India have made to this country, starting with The Friendship Tour back in 1992. The great pity is that the Indian administrators totally lack the integrity and ability to see the big picture of players like Dhoni and the recently retired Rahul Dravid. The actions of the current gang in charge of the BCCI are a great distance removed from friendship.
The reaction from the disgruntled South African public is hard to predict, but Cricket South Africa have made the decision to beef up security for the Indian visit. The players’ walkway at the Wanderers is one of the potential hot spots that will be closely watched.
The South African players – through their players’ association, Saca, and captain Graeme Smith’s scathing comments about two-Test series – have made clear their unhappiness about the Indian itinerary.
Dhoni, ever the diplomat, would only say: “We do have a busy schedule and we need to respect the itinerary here and look to make the most of it.”
The tour starts with the three ODIs, which suits India, whose recent form has earned them the tag of favourites to become the second subcontinent team, after Pakistan last week, to win a limited-overs series in South Africa.
Dhoni stressed how important it is for his in-form, experienced ODI batting line-up to approach the series with the right attitude.
“This should be a good, exciting series with some fantastic pitches. They do offer something for the fast bowlers, but as a batsman, you love the ball coming on to the bat and this is the place to bat for that. Especially in Johannesburg, the games are usually high-scoring.
“The format of the ODIs demands that you open up and play some strokes, which should take some of the tension out and hopefully we can take that freedom into the Test series,” Dhoni said. DM
Photo: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (REUTERS/Philip Brown)
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