His face is plastered all over the city; that trademark grey hair and beard, rimless glasses and bandhgalas are on every other hoarding.
This is undoubtedly the land of Narendra Modi, and on the day he assumed chief ministerial charge for the fourth straight time, the Indian and Pakistani teams trooped into the city ahead of their second T20 International to complete a hectic Wednesday for Ahmedabad.
In a way, MS Dhoni shared a similar charisma on the cricket field, virtually unchallenged about his leadership qualities. That was until crisis hit him hard, with series defeats to England at home and away, a 0-4 whitewash at the hands of Australia, failing to win the World T20 — and he slipped low in the popularity ratings, getting a few wrinkles and grey hairs on a face that was virtually unflustered in any situation.
In the last year, Dhoni’s leadership has come under severe scrutiny; several decisions have been openly challenged, and there has even been talk of revolt. The latest in this series is his fascination for Ravindra Jadeja.
Dhoni seems to prefer him in all formats, having just rolled him out as India’s 275th Test cricketer in the fourth Test at Nagpur without significant result, and since then, added him again in the T20 and ODI squads with little justification.
Dhoni saw a batsman in him for the first T20I against England, and then saw a bowler in him in the first game against Pakistan in Bangalore.
But the fact remains that Jadeja has disappointed on both fronts, and this isn’t a first time he’s doing so.
Dhoni’s persistence with Jadeja isn’t new. In the run- up to the 2011 World Cup, the India skipper afforded plenty of chances to Jadeja, making him bowl in every possible situation — as a runstopper, death bowler and an attacking option — but failed to elicit any success anywhere.
There was a similar case with Yusuf Pathan being persisted with despite lack of results, and he eventually won the race over Jadeja for a spot in India’s ultimately successful squad, but it was because of his ability to thrash the opposition with his big- hitting. Yusuf was subsequently dumped as failed experiment but Jadeja is still enjoying a good run from the selectors.
Even with his batting, Jadeja is unlikely to ever make his case in this Team India, because with all the quality that the 23-year-old possesses, he’s unlikely to come up the order as an attacking option ahead of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj, or by being more technically competent than Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane or Rohit Sharma.
Jadeja has played 58 ODIs at an average of 28.6, and has taken just 57 wickets in them. In the 14 T20Is he’s featured in, the all-rounder has scored 74 runs at an average of 10.5 and taken just seven wickets.
Yet Dhoni excluded R Ashwin for the Bangalore game because the “conditions didn’t suit” the spinner and included Jadeja without explaining how the conditions suited the bits-and-pieces player better.
Jadeja batted at No. 8 in the game against Pakistan — no position for a proper batsman proper to walk in — and was introduced as the sixth bowling option, who nevertheless ended up as the most expensive bowler in India’s first-ever defeat to Pakistan in a Twenty20 fixture.
The Saurashtra player has been a virtual bully in his own backyard, scoring 331 in Rajkot and 303 in Surat to aggregate 794 runs in five matches this season. But the more telling statistic is that he has a mere 22 runs in two games away from home.
Dhoni has been playing musical chairs, dropping Rohit and Ashwin by turns to accommodate Jadeja, but it remains to be seen how he repays the faith in the remainder of the series and brings the smile back on his skipper’s face.