"Desh badla, bhesh badlo (The nation's changed, now change your deportment)", says Indian one-day captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in one of his latest advertisements. And now, he may as well add: "Ab cricket badlo (Now, let's change cricket)".
Instead of resorting to doublespeak, Dhoni has put his mouth where his money is. Within days of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) vice-president Rajiv Shukla saying that tired players can inform the board and opt to rest, Dhoni has done just that.
Like parents need to keep a check on kids running amuck in a candy store, the board needs to take care of its players. Instead of asking them to take a decision to opt out of tours, they probably need to cut down on cricket and preserve the charm of the game.
I don't even remember who played whom last week, let alone last month. And the list of injured players is such that it may as well lead the board to even float a tender for an official hospital.
Dhoni has for some time been indicating that there is a lot of cricket with little rest and recently when he chose to articulate it in public, the BCCI - or at least its most vocal Shukla - reacted fairly strongly. Dhoni, in his typical way, has answered back in style.
That's something not many Indian cricketers - barring Sachin Tendulkar - have ever done in the past decade and a half. Many players have confided in private that they are scared of opting out of a series simply because of the danger of players coming in their place doing well and cementing their place in the side. Of course, there's that little matter of a few extra million rupees in the bank.
Sceptics might say players from here on will tend to preserve themselves for the lucrative shorter versions of the game. Remember, Dhoni was not fully fit after the strenuous Australia tour and yet he played in all three Tests against South Africa, leading the side to victory in the last Test to square the series in the absence of an injured skipper Anil Kumble.
Sceptics may also say Dhoni could well have opted out of the Bangladesh tri-series or the Asia Cup. But wouldn't that have looked ridiculous coming on the back of the backbreaking Indian Premier League, where Dhoni earned a whopping $1.5 million? Also remember he is a successful captain in both one-day and Twenty20 cricket.
Dhoni has often indicated that he is building a team for the 2011 World Cup but he also understands the importance and intrinsic value of Test cricket. His decision to skip the Sri Lanka tour is a pragmatic one, keeping in view his long career ahead.
The last year and a half have seen him play no less than 14 Test matches, four times that number - 56 - of one-dayers and about 25-odd Twenty20 matches. That really is an awful lot of cricket - nearly 150 days - and as many days of travelling in about 540 days.
Dhoni's decision may indeed be path breaking - like much else that he has done - and is a clear message to the administrators that they are indeed pushing the players beyond their physical limits. So what if they are professionals - they are human too.
Players are moving around like zombies; they are carrying injuries or are on the verge of breaking down. Look at the fast bowlers - all of them look tired but still want to carry on. And if their injuries are discovered, the media pans them and out they go. Who knows they may not even get back into the team.
Yes, Dhoni has the stature and the guts to take such a decision, but will others be able to do the same? Unlikely.
Source: Indo-Asian News Service