Defending Dhoni is fine, but Shastri should have spared us the ‘Whataboutism’

Kushal Phatarpekar

“People should look back at their career before commenting on Dhoni.”

Ravi Shastri did not mince words as he came to the defence of an under-fire Mahendra Singh Dhoni following the latter’s below par display during the recently concluded Twenty20 series against Australia and New Zealand.

Dhoni came in for sharp criticism from stalwarts such as VVS Laxman and Ajit Agarkar, who felt the former India captain should make way for younger players at least in the shortest format of the game.

Considering the stiff selection protocols and intense competition, the criticism seemed warranted. Shastri, though, had zero patience for such comments directed towards his ward. But, instead of laying down a reasoned argument, Shastri admonished the critics with a heavy dose of Whataboutism.

What Shastri is basically trying to say here is that one should not question Dhoni’s dwindling form unless their own careers were bereft of blemishes.

No room for criticism

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“What about the time you (insert offence here)?”

This is a format that has been used by many people across the globe in the past year. Be it two people arguing or just trolls on social media. This line, or a version of it, has come to become the ultimate winner in a debate of late. While the credentials of the winner are questionable, what is becoming pretty evident is that Whataboutism as a phenomenon is seeping through the political discourse the world over.

It is a concept that finds its roots in the post-Soviet Russia. The government’s public relations cell used this method tactfully as a way to obfuscate criticism of the Russian state. Plainly, it is “the practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation, or raising a different issue.”

The supporters of the ruling party in India have tried to glaze over their blemishes by citing the inadequacies of the party that was in power for more than half a century before them.

In the US, supporters of the sitting president are being noted for using similar ploys to dilute criticism directed towards their chosen leader.

In the latest episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver did a deep dive into the concept of Whataboutism and explained how it exalts someone of any criticism just because there were errors committed by others previously.

Its usage has become quite common nowadays. The use of whataboutism has stopped being just a tool used by politicians and now is common parlance for anyone trying to run away from criticism.

While most sportsmen are known to take criticism on the chin, there are many who would rather take refuge in Whataboutism than face some difficult questions head on.

Shastri’s rant was a glimpse into how this phenomenon has seeped into everyday discourse in the cricket world as well.

While one expects such a response from a passionate fan who might not be well-versed with the technical nuances of being an international cricketer, Shastri as a former captain and the present coach of the team, could have presented his argument for Dhoni in a more succinct manner.

Spotlight on Dhoni

As followers of the game, it’s hard to ignore Dhoni’s contribution to the game. Over the years, he has led the team to unprecedented success, won games single-handedly with the bat and astonished us with the speed of his glovework.

For fans, a combination of all these factors makes him a beloved figure.

Coach Shastri feels the same way and elaborated on why the former India captain was so essential to the team. However, his insistence that his wards are beyond criticism is hard to digest.

Each spot in the India senior national team is fiercely contested. There are a number of contenders any slot in the side. Senior pros such as R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were rested and sidelined from the limited-overs squads with hardly an explanation and the selectors have clearly adopted the ‘perform or perish’ motto.

While no one is denying Dhoni’s relevance in ODIs, it is in the shortest format that his form has been found wanting and warranted criticism. Is it not right to wonder whether someone can do the job better?

Instead of making the cricket fan understand his point of view, Shastri’s condescending approach showed that perhaps he didn’t have a valid argument to fall back on.

To Dhoni’s credit, his response to the criticism was much more sane.

“Everybody has views in life and it should be respected,” said Dhoni when asked to comment on the Agarkar and Laxman’s comments.

It was an apt reply and one that Shastri needed to take a leaf out of.

Sportspersons, like politicians, cannot be beyond criticism. It is their ability to fightback from adversity that makes them role models for so many of us. Either they fight on or are pushed aside while doing so.

Dhoni has already proved his worth a number of times. Maybe he has to do it again. What’s the harm in pointing it out?