New Delhi: In recent weeks, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's 'life' has been shrouded in 'controversy'. Ostensibly gagged by the Board of Control for Cricket in India officials, the Indian captain skipped the customary media briefing ahead of the team's departure for the ICC World Twenty20 Cup last week. Now, there are concerns over Dhoni's fitness. More than India's five-run defeat to Sri Lanka in a warm-up match in Mirpur on Monday, Dhoni's decision not to bat when India badly needed him, has left fans puzzled and angry. Pakistani fans have even taunted Dhoni's 'absence'. (Also read: Kohli wants to stamp his class through performance in ICC World Twenty20)
Dhoni is central to India's world Twenty20 campaign and any 'worrying' signal is bad news. Dhoni returned to Team India after skipping the Asia Cup in February-March. The official reason was that the skipper had suffered a side strain and needed rest to recover. On Monday, Dhoni kept wickets throughout when the Sri Lankans batted first. He apparently seemed to be in no pain. However, after India messed up the run-chase, Dhoni said during the post-match TV chat: "I had a small niggle in my right hand a couple of days back, so we had the luxury of giving it rest for a few more days. We still have one more practice game before the proper matches start, so there's no point risking it. Also, it gave me an opportunity to give other batsmen a fair chance." (Related: Match in pics | Match highlights)
In Dhaka, the media has once again been kept at arm's length by the Indian team management. So details about the niggle could not be found out. Much like the travelling media, the fans are not too pleased with this information 'ban'. "Avoiding the crease like he avoided the media. Are warm-ups not for heroes?" wrote an Indian fan on his Twitter page after the match. (Read: Team India, Dhoni dodge media again)
In practice matches, any of the 15 members in the side may bat but the total number of batsmen cannot exceed 11. Chasing Sri Lanka's 153, India inserted eight recognised batsmen - an out-of-match-practice Dhoni was not one of them -- but still fell short of what many considered an ordinary total.
India have won virtually nothing since December last year. Defeats in South Africa, New Zealand and the Asia Cup have left the high-flying Indian fan disappointed. Therefore, it is not surprising that a defeat in a warm-match is also taken in great seriousness. Pakistani fans, however, see the lighter side of Dhoni's 'absence'.
"Captain leading from behind, what a legend," taunted a Pakistan fan on a well-known cricket website in his country. Another fan wrote in jest that India is bored of playing Sri Lanka. "Dhoni did not bat since he took an oath never to see SL players face again cos he was bored of seeing them over and over for last few years."
Not every fan though is criticizing Dhoni's apparently 'defensive strategy'. "If there's an injury, good he didn't bat. Could have aggravated it. Better reserve his power for bigger matches," wrote another fan.
India begin their ICC World Twenty20 campaign on March 21 with a mouth-watering clash against Pakistan. The 32-year-old Dhoni can silence all his critics with one match-winning innings. Nothing works better than performance on the field. It's all in black and white.