June 1, 2013

The art of meticulous blandness

MS Dhoni does a job for the BCCI that you couldn't do even if you had the essence of Zen in you

Captain of India is not a job I'd choose to do myself. Granted, it's unlikely I'll be asked. But if I did get a phone call from Mr Srinivasan, asking whether, with my experience of English tea-making conditions and ability to handle an umbrella, I would consider helping them out in the Champions Trophy, I would have to decline.

For one thing, I don't like to think too much. I lose interest in crosswords after the third clue. I still haven't finished reading The Great Gatsby. I am forever wandering into rooms and forgetting what I came in for. Now I could get away with this if I was just being asked to stand in as a player, since all you have to remember is which team you're playing for, which dressing room to go into, and whether or not you are allowed to accept money from bookies.

But cricket captaincy is all about thinking. It's not the same in other sports. Football captains don't have this problem. As Michael Vaughan recently suggested, there isn't a lot to it. A football captain's job appears to involve shouting, clapping your hands together vigorously, standing at one end of the line before the game, and being head cliché-dispenser at the press conference. Thinking doesn't come into it.

Not so for the poor cricket captain. He is regularly required to exert little grey cells. How many overs do these jokers need to bowl in the next ten minutes so I don't cop another fine? Did I promise Ishant he could have the last over? Have we used the Powerplay yet? Wait, do we still have Powerplays? Did I tell Suresh to start outside the circle and walk in, or the other way round? Is this umpire the one who hates us or the one who never hears nicks?

If being a cricket captain is a bit of a headache, then being the Indian cricket captain must feel like you've got half a dozen angry squirrels nesting in your cranial cavity, banging on the inside of your skull with acorns and asking why Rahane isn't playing, why you didn't win the last game that you didn't win, and when are you going to retire, you old has-been.

The questions never end and the scrutiny is relentless. It is remarkable that the current incumbent hasn't yet snapped and gone on a Hulk-style rampage, ripping off his shirt, overturning tables full of microphones, and throwing journalists through the window roaring, "Mahendra angry! Mahendra not want answer stupid questions!"

Within hours of landing in England this week, MS Dhoni was once again sitting in front of a microphone. It was the first time that the English press had been able to get at a senior Indian cricket personage en masse since that unfortunate business at the IPL first came to light, so this time he wasn't just representing his team, but the whole of Indian cricket. He was asked many questions, but the gist of it seemed to be:

1. Isn't the IPL ruining the chances of the national team?

2. Seven days is hardly enough time to prepare for an international tournament now, is it?

3. What about all this spot-fixing, corruption and so on, eh?

Now if I was in his shoes, I might have been tempted to reply as follows:

1. Yes, it's a complete joke. I am so sick of the Indian dumb stupid Premier League. I can't wait for the day when it all folds. It really is awful, and I hate every minute of it.

2. You're telling me! I haven't even had chance to buy an umbrella. But that's the BCCI for you. Complete idiots, the lot of them. And that Srinivasan, don't get me started!

3. Spot-fixing? You don't know the half of it. I could tell you some stories, believe me. There was this one time…

What I wouldn't have been able to do is to answer all of those questions with meticulous blandness, taking care to avoid any intonation, syllabic emphasis, or tiny frownlet that could cause even a single word to be misconstrued. At the moment, MS is the best spokesman/PR person the BCCI have. And it isn't even his day job.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here