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Leadership is much more than winning matches

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MS_Dhoni_Virat_Kohli_India_Cricket_CaptainBy stepping down from ODI/T20 captaincy, Dhoni has become larger than life, says Crowpoint on this very site. Dhoni had given up his Test captaincy Down Under when he sensed that his magic was waning. In doing so, he actually created more magic! His protégé, Virat Kohli, who was waiting in the wings and learning from his skipper, transformed India’s temporarily-dipping fortunes, by taking the bull by the horns. India raced up to number one in the ICC Test rankings.

Why Dhoni gave up his ODI/T20 captaincy may not be very clear, but the grapevine puts it down to ego and being hurt or offended by an official. But leadership is not just about being at the helm. It is equally about letting go, having groomed a successor, and stepping down gracefully. There is something called ‘posterity’ and MS has always been aware of that.

Think of all the greats who forgot this simple, but difficult-to-ingrain truth about leadership I just referred to. The leaders of so many countries, for instance, who held on to power for a bit too long without investing time and effort in grooming suitable successors. It is always about a continuum. About passing the baton when the going is strong and smooth, to sustain the position of the group/team/country.

 

Contrary to what is commonly thought, when one gracefully hands over the baton and offers one’s services in the other capacities – in Dhoni’s case, as wicket keeper and batsman – respect within the team is not just retained but augmented. Youngsters on the team continue to look up to you for guidance and advice.

Kohli would gain a lot with Dhoni around for insight. When the going gets tough, Dhoni’s cool head can be harnessed for magical outcomes. But when you childishly wish to hold on to power, you risk getting forced out. Irrespective of all your ‘past glories’, your value dwindles and respect for you starts drifting away. Readers will no doubt quickly recall such instances, some of them quite familiar.

What Dhoni has done in recent times is sans pareil and highly praiseworthy: leading the India-A side just after handing over the ODI/T20 leadership to Kohli, leading a second-string India team to Zimbabwe with the sole motive of grooming youngsters for the future and, of course, opting to play for India in ODIs/T20s as a wicketkeeper batsman.

The century against England at Cuttack, in the company of Yuvraj Singh, not only helped to take India to a huge total, but was one which came after 3 years for Dhoni – the previous one being his unbeaten 139 against Australia in October 2013. It also took Dhoni closer to the 10,000-run mark in ODIs, a milestone he richly deserves.

All this just shows that he would give his 100% with bat and gloves, whether he is skipper or not. In Tests, of course, his retirement paved the way for Saha (and Parthiv). The 256-run stand with Yuvraj had an additional benefit – infusing confidence in Yuvraj Singh, who will now hopefully carry on and bat consistently in the matches ahead.

 

Dhoni’s contribution to Indian cricket is not simply runs, catches, stumpings and matches won as captain, but also Virat Kohli, if I may say so. Kohli made his Test debut against the West Indies in 2011 under Dhoni’s captaincy. In that Test, he scored a total of 19 runs. He made his ODI debut against the Lankans as an opener – also under Dhoni – and scored 12 runs. Dhoni can take some credit for what Kohli is today – and I’m sure Kohli would give a lot of credit to Dhoni.

The biopic which has been screened in theatres deserves to do well. Management colleges the world over could avail of Dhoni’s expertise to get across messages about leadership to students by inviting him to give guest lectures. He could very well write a book on leadership which can serve as a vade mecum for leaders from all disciplines – sports, industry, business, academia or for that matter, even the household.

Time has moved very fast. I first heard of Dhoni when he scored that blazing century against Pakistan, two days after I returned to India from Singapore. It was in April, 2005. But that memory did not last too long. Then, in October or November 2005, while constructing a cricket-crossword for a major newspaper, I read about his unbeaten 183* against Sri Lanka. This man who had flowing shoulder-length hair at that time…

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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