If he wishes, MS Dhoni could write a thousand-page book filled with the different ways he caught people off guard during his tenure, both on and off the field. It comes naturally to him, doing the least expected. He sent all the cricket reporters and editors to a sleepless night with his late evening decision the other day. Somewhere in New Zealand his previous victim, Ross Taylor, to whom Dhoni had sold a dummy at Ranchi, might have had a giggle looking at the plight of journos.
It is his way of doing things. His shots, he calls. So was his retirement from Test cricket, so is his stepping down from the ODI and T20 captaincy. The timing, even if it deserts his bat at times, doesn’t seem to desert him while making his decisions. For Dhoni, cricket isn’t a larger than life entity, and perhaps that has helped him throughout his career in making the right calls at the right time.
Of all the things that could possibly be done on a cricket field, what came most naturally to Dhoni was to stand behind the stumps and captain his side. Standing there – most of the times with a wooden face showing little emotion – he held in his grasp the entire country’s emotions and elevated it to a level not experienced before.
Every leader is unique, especially a good leader. Leaders don’t imitate, they thrive on their uniqueness. Dhoni was akin to none. He believed in his own set of principles: not overanalysing the game, keeping it simple; not looking too far ahead, being in the moment instead. He tried to work out his options based on what he had rather than moaning of what he didn’t have. He accepted and worked with his side’s limitations. His tactics might have looked awkward at times, but he backed his instinct, something which came naturally to him. Dhoni was not only a good leader, but one of the best of all time.
He led by example but was the first to let the youngsters live the moment. He avoided the limelight when possible; most times he looked like a passer-by who happened to be at the right place at the wrong time. Even as others around him couldn’t hold on to their emotions, Dhoni would silently smile and fade away, as if he had been there and seen it all before. He didn’t scream. He just revelled in silence.
The other aspect of Dhoni’s captaincy was his emphasis on fielding and fitness. India is one of the better fielding sides today and Dhoni deserves a lot of credit for it. At a time when India was happy having just one Kaif or Yuvraj or Raina, Dhoni wanted his whole unit to be attentive and agile. It didn’t matter if he was in the outfield or in the infield. He received a lot of flak for his decision down under when he raised concerns over the fitness of some of his senior players, but India needed to move on from the traditional way of approaching the game. Dhoni wanted to bring in that change, and as the game evolved, the change was inevitable.
From a long haired boy from Ranchi to a white bearded man who captained India over the years, Dhoni not only rode his destiny but the entire nation’s. Under him India became a side that the world feared, a side that consistently put up top-notch performances especially on the bigger stages, something which the side wasn’t accustomed to. Be it the two World cups or the Champions trophy or the Commonwealth series down under, India shed its nerves and blossomed. Under Dhoni, India woke up to new dawn.
With Gary Kirsten, he found an able ally and together they formed a great partnership in taking India forward. All their good work culminated in India winning the 2011 World Cup. Even as the whole country breathed with nervousness and tension, Dhoni was a picture of composure and assurance. As he came to bat, ahead of India’s world cup hero Yuvraj Singh, on a night which would later become historic, he give away little in terms of emotion or nerves. With him present, India breathed safe. He then slowly inflated the country’s heart with unbounded joy before letting the emotions loose with his towering six. He batted like a man destined to bring home the crown.
Dhoni handing the last over to Joginder Sharma in the World T20 final is already fairy tale ending in the history of Indian cricket. Dhoni got lucky, many believed. He might have been a tad lucky. But then which captain hasn’t had the odd bit of luck? A captain makes his own luck.
But having seen Dhoni operate over the last decade, we can safely say that it wasn’t a fluke after all. Dhoni has this uncanny ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat. On numerous occasions, he has raised a few eyebrows with such moves, something which he has persisted with even in his later years. For some years Suresh Raina was that rabbit, and lately it seems to have turned out that even a Kedar Jadhav could become a rabbit!
With him stepping down, Dhoni is nearing a full circle. Now he is back to where he began. More leeway, less pressure. He can now brush the burden off his shoulders and look to bat like a boy with long hair rather than a man with white beard.
It will be interesting to see how Kohli and Kumble will make the best use of Dhoni. Knowing Kohli, it is highly unlikely that he will ask Dhoni to take any other route than the aggressive route.
Dhoni for some years now has been using his iron-like willow to waft butterflies. The time has come to throw some power behind it, and whack a few.
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