If there is a better man, give him the job - Dhoni
"I just said my statement. The best thing about statements is, you can assume it the way you want to."
That was MS Dhoni's response when told how his statement that he might have to give up Test cricket at the end of 2013 if he is to captain India to their World Cup defence was seen by many as a general disinterest in Test cricket.
"Maybe by 2013 I'll have to," Dhoni said. "It is two years away, and the kind of cricket we are playing - IPL, 45 days; Champions League; and back-to-back series; lots of games. We have to see where we last. It's not a calendar year where you get a lot of rest, and you get away with small niggles during that rest period."
Dhoni then sought to clarify his thought process. "I said end of 2013," he said. "Now it's the start of 2012, 2013 is two years. I don't know whether I will be alive in two years. That's a long time. What I said was, by the end of 2013, I will have to see whether I can play the World Cup. It wasn't about one format, it was about cricket. I can't play till 2014 and say I am not fit enough to survive till the next World Cup. And you'll have a player coming in who has played just 25 games."
When pointedly asked if he was as interested in Tests as he was in other formats, and whether Test cricket was as important in his mind, Dhoni's response was emphatic. "Of course. Test cricket is the real cricket." However, he went on to say he wasn't running down the other formats either.
"Every form of cricket has its own challenges," Dhoni said. "You have the Test format, the longer version. You have ODI cricket where you can see glimpses of Test cricket and Twenty20s, especially with two balls getting used. And all of a sudden a team loses three or four wickets, and you go and do the consolidating job and then go on with the slog. And then there is the shortest format where you lose five wickets, you go in and the longest consolidating period you get is one over and you start hitting again. All of them are very interesting, and as long as I am able to, I will play all the three formats."
Dhoni was then asked where he felt he was on his Test journey. "I am still on my way. I have not reached any place," he said, suggesting there might finally be something in a Dhoni press conference that might reveal his inner feelings, before going on to show it was just a tease. "If I remember, the thing I said was 2013, which is two years from now on. I don't know if you will be covering cricket or not. I don't know if I will be playing cricket or not. That's a long time."
That's the thing with Dhoni. You never know. If you haven't been to a match, you won't be able to tell from Dhoni's face if he has won it or lost it. There is a sense of detachment, whether real or rehearsed, that has worked for Dhoni, ridding him of the pressures Indian captaincy brings. It has consumed the best of them, even the best tactical captain India has had, Rahul Dravid.
Dhoni has fought it by not acknowledging it, but over the last 12 months, especially after India won the World Cup, you wonder if he has been too detached when India needed a more involved leader to oversee the transition to the next phase. In Australia, loss after loss brought the same combination, same strategy, same faces, same answers. You didn't get a feeling somebody was taking charge. You didn't see Dhoni change his tactics on the field. You can't blame the thinkers for thinking he didn't care. Dhoni, though, will tell you only he knows how much he cares. However, people who wanted to see a sign didn't get to see one.
Then there was intrigue off the field. There were reports of Virender Sehwag wanting the captaincy, and that he was not very appreciative of Dhoni's work. Not to forget that Sehwag can't be very appreciative of his own work, either as batsman or captain at this stage. Sehwag, of course, denied all that. Now that the series is gone, though, rumour mills are abuzz again. Dhoni's captaincy in Tests away from subcontinent is bound to come under scrutiny.
When asked where he saw himself vis-à-vis the captaincy issue, Dhoni said: "It's an added role and responsibility for me. It's not a position that belongs to anyone. That responsibility was given to me three-and-a-half years back. I have been trying to do well, get along with the team, perform well wherever we play.
"It's just a position I hold. It's something I'll always look to do well [as long as] I am in the job. It's not something I want to hold on to or stick on to. If there's a better replacement, it's a very open thing. He can come in. At the end of the day you want India to perform. If there is someone who can do a better job, then it's a place that should be given to him. It's not something you have to cling on to."
When asked if, given his workload, he had enough left to go on and lead India's attempt at rebuilding from the defeats, Dhoni said: "It's not an individual who decides whether he is good enough or not. It's others who decide if you are good enough or not. When it comes to effort, I am still giving my 100%."
To paraphrase Dhoni himself, the beauty of statements is, they are open to interpretations. As are the last two. Is he resigned to losing his Test captaincy? Is he so detached he won't fight if it is taken away? Will he not be desperate to correct the lasting memory of his captaincy - back-to-back whitewashes? Or - and this is interesting - is he daring the powers to find a man better suited to the job because there isn't anybody in sight at the moment?
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo