The uncertainties leading up to the retirement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be forgotten soon enough, and what will remain are the certainties and the pride of performance over the years.
Should he have retired earlier? Or at least should he have cleared the air earlier?
It does not matter. Dhoni was under no compulsion to make it easier for everybody else, especially those whose job it is to tie up careers neatly and move on to the next big thing.
It is likely that Dhoni might continue to play in the IPL. It is a tournament he enjoys, playing for a team he loves whose fans return the love many times over.
A man who has played 90 Tests, 350 one-dayers and 98 T20s will, naturally, be missed.
This in addition to being the country’s most successful captain, taking India to the No 1 ranking and leading them to a World Cup win after 28 years (2011), the World T20 (2007) which set up the IPL revolution and the Champions Trophy (2013).
In white ball cricket he is one of the all-time greats, his 84 undefeated innings pushing his average above 50 in one-day internationals. Only Ricky Ponting has led his team, Australia, to more wins. Dhoni has led in and won more matches than any other captain in T20 internationals.
He led India in the most number of Tests, 60, and was only recently overtaken by Virat Kohli as the most successful.
Dhoni’s reign had a profound impact on Indian cricket, and not just in terms of statistics.
He rose from what was then a backwater of Indian cricket – the eastern city of Ranchi – and continued the work begun by a predecessor, Sourav Ganguly, who turned to the non-traditional cricketing centres and discovered players of international standard.
Dhoni’s elevation as captain continued a process begun with the aristocrats – the maharajahs and nawabs – who led in the early years, the middle-class players (often bankers) who followed and then the small-town talent who spread the game; this in some ways reflecting the evolution of Indian society itself.
He was eight years old when Sachin Tendulkar made his Test debut, and within months of his taking over Tendulkar was saying, “I am delighted with the way Dhoni has conducted himself. He is a balanced guy with a sharp brain.”
Dhoni was easily accepted by the seniors in the side, a tribute both to his potential and fairness.
He learnt from his predecessors. From Rahul Dravid under whom he played 19 Tests and Anil Kumble under whom he played 10. These two men from the southern state of Karnataka brought to the job a rare intelligence, tactical nous and man management skills. “I want a team,” Dhoni once said, “that can stand before an advancing truck.” And he worked at building just such a team.
As a player, the amazing thing about Dhoni was what might look inadequate in another player, a gimmick even, worked well for him.
Ex-India keeper Syed Kirmani said initially he lacked “copybook basics” as a wicketkeeper and criticised his habit of standing on his heels to receive the ball rather than on his toes. The corkscrew on-drive or “helicopter” shot was uniquely Dhoni’s. It was seldom imitated because it was inimitable.
Retirement is a difficult thing, both for the player and his team.
In the first Test following Sunil Gavaskar’s retirement, India were bowled out for 75 by the West Indies and went on to lose by five wickets. It was another 19 Tests before India had a century opening partnership. That’s one side of the coin.
Here’s the other: after Tendulkar was caught at slip in his final Test innings, the new batsman Virat Kohli struck the next ball for four.
The symbolism was inescapable. The king is dead, long live the king.
Dhoni, as he prepares to leave the international scene, can take comfort in the fact that his successors are already in place.
He leaves Indian cricket in a good place – back as the best team in the world with a captain who is as hot (if one might be pardoned that expression) as he himself was cool, but just as successful; and new wicketkeepers ready to take over.
He will be missed for his remarkable self-control, his ability to change the tempo of a match either through sustained hitting or dour defence, and his manner of encouraging the bowlers, especially the spinners, from behind the wicket.
In the latter half of his career, he appeared at times to have eyes in the back of his head with his ability to run out batsman behind him without looking at the stumps.
He also patented a way of avoiding the recoil with his practised manner of either taking the edge from the bat or the throw from the field without wasting time having to take his hands back with the ball. It is a significant contribution to the art of wicketkeeping. Anything that saves time.
In 15 years, Dhoni played 538 internationals, scored over 17,000 runs, averaged 45 with a strike rate of nearly 80, held 634 catches and effected 195 stumpings.
Only five players in the history of the game have played more internationals; only one of them was a wicketkeeper, and none of them led in as many matches as Dhoni did.
His will be tough boots to fill. But Dhoni’s legacy goes beyond figures and reflects the arc of India’s societal transformation.
It will include the self-confidence he brought to large hitherto ignored sections of the population, and emphasise the old-fashioned dignity and respect he brought to the game and its players.
All Seeded players through to semis
P & S Sri Lanka Junior Open Golf Championship
The P&S Sri Lanka Junior Golf Match-play championship, sponsored by P&S Bakers group, entered the knock-out stage, with the quarter-final matches worked off with the seeded players moving through comfortably bar the thrilling cliff-hanger match between Jacob Norton Seeded 3 in the Silver Division and Varun Fernando (6th Seed) who fought all the way to take the match to the 20th hole, where Jacob prevailed.
Jacob Norton will meet second-seeded H.D. Adithya Weerasinghe (A’pura) who beat T. Deshan 6 & 4 comfortably. The top-seeded Reshan Algama beat Kaiyan Johnpillai convincingly 7 & 6, and will face fifth-seeded Jevahn Sathasivam who defeated fourth Seeded Keshav Algama with an easy 7 & 6 victory.
In the Gold Division, second-seeded Yannik Kumara withdrew after the qualifying round as he was scheduled to play in a tournament overseas and was not included in the match-play draw.
The top seed Haroon Aslam breezed through to the semi-final pulverizing W.G. Isurur Shimal 9 & 7 and will meet Pranav Muralidharan the fourth seed who handsomely beat an experienced T. Vikash 7 & 6. In the bottom half of the Junior Championship Draw, second-seeded K. Danushan smashed Thenuk Sathnidu 8 & 7. He will play third seed Vinuka Weerasinghe who beat Yehan Kenthula 6 & 4.
In the Girls Gold Division number one seed Kaya Daluwatte will meet Yehani Perera who received a walk-over from Dhanushi Wanasinghe. Third seed Dhavinka Kanag-Isvaran beat R.M. Dinumi Sanjana 7 & 6 to set-up the second semi-final against second seed Sherin Balasuriya who also received a walk over from Sanduni Wanasinghe.
The Bronze Division Semi-Final clash between top seed Thejas Rathis Kanth and Keya Abhayarathne will be the feature battle. Keya Abhayarathne defeated Kaitlyn Norton 6 & 5 to set-up the semi-final match versus the top seed Thejas. In the bottom half of the draw second-seed Mohamed Saqeer Zuhar will meet third-seeded Yehansa Senananayake.
In the Copper Division played over nine holes, Yuvan Rathis Kanth beat L.G. Anuja Methsara 6 & 4 to meet the second seed Jaeden Sathasivam whilst in the top half of the draw top seed Danik Daluwatte faces Taalia Silva.
The five semi-final matches scheduled for Thursday promise to be thrillers with the youngsters soaking in the pressure and performing well, adapting to the exciting Match-play format, that moulds the character of young golfers.
Arjuna heads new Sports Council
A new Sports Council was appointed by Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe yesterday with World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga taking the reign as the head of the apex body.
The other members of the Sports Council are: Lieutenant General H.L.V.M. Liyanage, Air Marshal S.K. Pathirana, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, Amal Edirisooriya, Maj. Gen. Rajitha Ampemohotti, Dr. Maiya Gunasekara, Shriyani Kulawansa, Ajith Pathirana, Sunil Jayaweera, Chrishantha Mendis, Lasitha Gunaratne, Nalinda Illangakoon, Sudath Chandrasekara, Sujani Bogollagama.
NH bids adieu to Ladies’ College after 50-year stint as TT coach
By a Special Sports Correspondent
Former table tennis National Champion, National Coach and sporting legend N.H Perera probably set a record in the Sri Lankan school sporting arena when he retired from coaching Ladies’ College Colombo in the ping pong ball and racket game after serving this academic institute for 50 years.
NH, as he is fondly known in the table tennis circles, started coaching Ladies College back in 1972 following an invitation made to him by the teacher in charge of sports back then Delita Fernando. When he turns the pages of time the only reason that came to his mind to say yes to this coaching assignment was that he wanted to give something back to the sport. He was quite young then (21 to be exact) and had won the table tennis national singles crown twice (1968/70) by then. He recalled with fondness how the lasses from this school won the National School Games title in 2019.
He produced many outstanding female players from this school and the secret behind his success was him being a strict disciplinarian. At the time he said yes to coaching at Ladies’ College he had laid down a condition for the authorities of the school. That was to arrange practices in the morning. This was because he was gainfully employed in work done outside table tennis. This goes on to show the caliber of players in the golden years of the sport. A good many of them had the capacity to contribute to society using their brains and education unlike today where the players are forced to supplement their income through table tennis coaching. For the record, NH served several companies and institutes in many capacities; proving that engaging in competitive sport and showing commitment to employment are a possibility when the individual has the capacity to manage both. When he finally retired from work he held the post of Marketing Manager at United Arab Shipping Lines.
He had his education at Nalanda College and had the honour of being the first table tennis national captain to be produced by this academic institute.
He rates the 1970s as the golden era of the sport. “I say this because we were invited by the ITTF to contest the Afro Asian Latin American Table Tennis Championship in Peking, China. During his playing days, NH had beaten top players from Russia, China, and also Europe. The picture he sees now in Sri Lankan table tennis is not so rosy. “We even lost to Nepal at the last SA Games. I believe the TTASL must be dissolved and a Board of Control for Table Tennis must be formed instead. Today we see many coaches out there who cannot put the ball over the net,” said Perera.
NH sees more potential in the Sri Lanka female players. According to him, the women’s players from Sri Lanka had finished sixth at the previous Commonwealth Games. “I trust that the way forward would be to bring down a female table tennis coach and male trainer; both from China. This would raise the standard of our playing,” said Perera who many years ago qualified as a coach from the Peking University of China.
He also spoke about the psychological aspects to training players. NH underscored the importance of bringing in psychology to training to help players handle unexpected challenges in the game. “You have to do sessions to develop the minds of the players,” said Perera.
He is at present engaged in coaching the students at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia. The school by the sea won the All Island Table Tennis Championships in 2019 under his guidance.
NH maintains high standards for his players and himself. He recalls an incident in the past; which occurred during the time he was young and already the national champion. “I was coming out of the YMCA training hall after training and a photographer asked me to pose for a picture. I was in slacks and this picture appeared in the newspaper. I was summoned to the TTASL and a top official asked me why I had disgraced the sport by not being properly attired for a photograph that appeared in a national newspaper. I learned a valuable lesson in life,” concluded Perera.
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