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Dhoni versus Sehwag: The other captain-vice-captain ‘rift’ that rocked Indian cricket

Dhoni Sehwag
by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

MS Dhoni and Virender Sehwag, two stalwarts of Indian cricket, found themselves at the opposite ends of a supposed ‘rift’, a rumour that gained momentum due to various reports around the two players between 2009 and 2012.

The two had been playing together at the international level since 2004, with Sehwag five years Dhoni’s senior in the India team. Sehwag was often the deputy in the side and makeshift skipper on occasion. When Dhoni was appointed captain in 2008, a memorable reign began.

But while he turned out to be one of India’s greatest leaders, Dhoni’s tenure wasn’t without controversy, with whispers of turmoil inside the camp emerging in 2009. The first instance of a possible rift between Dhoni and Sehwag was felt at that year’s T20 World Cup when news of Sehwag’s aggravated shoulder injury carried an air of mystery around it.

When asked about the injury at a pre-match press conference, Dhoni curtly replied with: “Maybe you should ask his physio to issue a press release”. It was enough to set the cat amongst the pigeons, with many taking it to be indicative of differences between the two senior players.

It reached a point where Dhoni decided to adopt a rather bizarre approach to clear the air, parading the entire team to a post-match presser, declaring that there was no rift within the side. The statement of unity was enough to deflate the off-field speculation for a time, but Dhoni and Sehwag never really left the crosshairs. In October that year, Sehwag boldly declared: “I will not be vice-captain, I am ready to be captain.” Full-time captaincy, though, remained elusive for him.

Two years later, both played key roles in India’s triumphant World Cup campaign and the voices swirling around the set-up died down, but the path following the World Cup win saw a return of the same speculation, albeit due to a totally different reason.

During the 2012 CB series in Australia, discontent inside the team appeared to spill out through press conferences, even as the team struggled to notch up wins. Early in the series, Sehwag revealed that the team had decided to rotate its senior openers – Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag himself – giving a chance to younger players to prepare ahead of the next World Cup. Things took a turn for the worse when it became known that Dhoni’s mantra to infuse youth in the team via rotation was also to save runs on the field through fresher legs, an aspect that was seemingly not communicated to the senior members in the team. A press conference, after their game against Sri Lanka, saw Sehwag take a rather forthright stance.

“No, we didn’t know that,” Sehwag said when asked about Dhoni’s statement that youngsters would save “20 runs on the field” when compared to senior players. “I didn’t know what he said and what’s going on in the media. But we decided, we had a meeting, he chatted with everyone, with Gautam and myself and Tendulkar; he explained that he wanted to give chances to youngsters so youngsters can play all the matches here because the next World Cup is also here, so they’ll get an idea of how the pitches behave in Australia.”

When asked if the policy to rotate players would still hold if youngsters weren’t scoring runs, Sehwag retorted with, “You have to ask Dhoni again. What he told us is he has to give chances to youngsters; they will come here and play the next World Cup. That’s what he told us.”

Then came a one-liner that was spoken about for days. When asked about the seniors’ fielding standards, Sehwag responded “Did you see my catch? [Referring to a diving catch he took at short mid-wicket in the game] We are same for the last ten years. Nothing has changed.”

Asked again if he’ll be having communication with Dhoni on the rotation policy, Sehwag quipped: “Why should I have a chat with him? He is the captain, he is the leader; if he and the coach think we should give breaks to the top order, that’s fine, I am okay with that. I don’t have any issues with that.”

Days later, Dhoni asserted that there were no differences with Sehwag or any rift in the camp. He, however, agreed that reports outside did cause a bit of unease inside the dressing room between the two players.

“You feel a little awkward initially,” Dhoni said. “You may sometimes think the person is actually believing [what is being reported]. And the second person thinks maybe he said it. But once you go through the talks, it gets back to as it was.

“It doesn’t even by 10 per cent affect our performance or has any effect in the dressing room.”

The BCCI soon intervened, asking the players to keep the team’s unity intact, and there weren’t any back-and-forth verbal jabs after that. However, there remained an uncomfortable air whenever the two were spoken of together. In his elaborate farewell speech in 2015, Sehwag omitted Dhoni’s name when mentioning the captains he played under. “I want to thank my first captain Ajay Jadeja and other captains Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble. I want to thank Sachin Tendulkar.” Later, it became known that he had requested a farewell match, but the BCCI had declined him the honour.

Last year, while commenting as an expert on miscommunication in the team, Sehwag said that even MS Dhoni, at times, failed to properly communicate with his teammates, referring to the 2012 incident again.

“When MS Dhoni said in Australia that top three are slow fielders,” Sehwag told Cricbuzz, “we were never asked or consulted. We got to know from the media. He said at the press conference but not at the team meeting that we are slow fielders.”

The two have publicly denied any rift, but that’s what the expected stance would have been either way. It could have been real, or blown out of proportion, but it did cause uncertainty and a whole lot of drama. Years later, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, another captain-vice-captain pair, find themselves in the middle of such conversations, even though they’ve continued to deny any split. Whether these are facts or fiction, history tells us the speculation is unlikely to end any time soon.

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