To say that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a thorough maverick would be a gross understatement. Over the last few years he has been labeled with varied euphemisms: Captain Cool, Man with the Midas touch, Captain Marvel and Ice-man being some of them...And to be truthful all of them do justice to his personality in some ways. Rarely have we seen any leader in any sport, leave alone cricket; have the kind of aura and achieve the kind of grand and glittering success MSD has achieved in his tenure as the team India captain. His fairy tale kind super-success story continues as he led his IPL team, the Chennai Super Kings, to their second successive title, thus making even his harshest of critics eat the humble pie. The number of trophies that he has now won probably makes him the greatest captain ever produced by India. But there are many who would choose not to agree. Infact after his World Cup triumph the debate has opened up across all forms of media on whether he is the best leader from our country and if he is indeed better than the rest... Dhoni however is unperturbed by all these debates, and nonchalantly keeps going about his business, i.e. leading his team to victories.
Dhoni burst into the international circles with his whirlwind century (148) against Pakistan at Vishakhapatnam in 2005. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for this budding right –handed batsman from Ranchi to the Indian team ; as he had to wait for many years before finally getting the nod, who idolized Australia’s legendary Adam Gilchrist and also inculcated some of his destructive traits inside him. He kept impressing the selectors and the fans alike with his swashbuckling style of play, his long locks, charming smile and many a memorable innings. However, 2007 was the year that changed it all, and in that also gave us one of the greatest leaders that the history of cricket has known.
The inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007 was an event that not many took very seriously, including our cricketing bigwigs like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, who chose to opt out of the event. That meant the team had to have a new leader and Dhoni was selected for the role almost impromptu. Nobody knew what to expect of him... The rest as they say is history…
Leading India to an unexpected and emphatic title victory, Dhoni showed glimpses of a perfect leader in that short stint. He never looked back ever since, accomplishing almost everything that a captain of a country can perhaps only dream of. The 2008 VB series in Australia, beating New Zealand in New Zealand, beating Australia in India in two successive tours, winning the Asia Cup, leveling with South Africa in their own den, leading India to the number one rankings in Tests (and maintaining it for more than a year) and by no means to forget his IPL and Champions League success; are some of his outstanding achievements. The World Cup victory perhaps is the biggest icing on his cake and the fact that he was the Man of the Match in the finals with an unforgettable 91 not out adds to this glitter.
However, there still are many voices that aren’t exactly willing to agree on this ‘best captain’ theory. Critics have been vocal of many of his decisions like the backing of Ravindra Jadeja , or for instance his continuance with Piyush Chawla in the World Cup inspite of having the very talented R. Ashwin in the ranks. It is true that some of his moves have backfired, but what we forget is that he has been appointed the captain of the team for some reasons and he knows a thing or two more than the average cricket-follower who finds it easy to comment on each and every move of his.
He is an instinctive captain, and doesn’t think too much before going through with any of his decisions, and just banks on his gut feel. Some of them work, and work wonders, and some don’t., and the good thing about those is he accepts them and tries to learn from them, all hallmark of a great leader. He has the right to face flak as the captain of the national team but sometimes we just tend to overdo with the flak bit. That is the problem with India; everybody is a cricket- expert. And that perhaps makes Dhoni’s achievements even more worthwhile. The ability to stay calm , showing no trace of emotions under dire circumstances, the tendency to think out of the box and to plan the opposition’s downfall like a perfect engineer is what makes him extra special.
The criticisms don’t however just end there...There is a theory doing the rounds these days that Dhoni had a ‘set –team’ to begin with and he just reaping in the fruits of what his predecessor Ganguly labored to make for many years. Add to that the ‘lucky’ tag that he is forever embedded with. Neither of them stands true in their own right. Firstly on the ‘set-team’ bit every captain has a bunch of set players with him and goes on add new personnel to his armoury over the years, it’s his job as a captain. Ganguly did that and Dhoni has done the same. The likes of Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and R.Ashwin have all found relentless support from their captain. Plus the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, who have played under almost six different captains, has quite vocally rated Dhoni as the best of the lot and also said that this is the ‘best dressing room’ he has been a part of... Even Yuvraj Singh, once known as Ganguly’s prodigy has ranked Dhoni as the best. It would infact be idiotic to compare Dhoni with anyone. Ganguly had his own abilities, he influxed lots of energy in the team and Dhoni has carried it over and taken the confidence of the team to an all together different level. The never-say die attitude, the hunger to win at all costs and high spiritedness shown by the current lot has never been seen on any other set of players ever.
To call him lucky would be undermining all his abilities...Yes luck plays a crucial factor, but as it’s said ‘fortune favours the brave’ and MSD is surely one of the bravest admirals around. It is often said that a captain is as good as his team, however Australian great Ian Chappell had made an interesting and contrasting observation once that a team too takes on the personality of its captain. That is exactly what has happened with team India; it has taken on the personality of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in every sense of the word, being fearless, unabashed, cool, calm and collected, and that is why they are performing as a well-oiled unit.
Over the years lots has changed with Dhoni, his long locks are gone, so too is his boyish demanour and his swashbuckling style of play. He has matured as a batsman and a wicket-keeper. Playing endless cricket for the past eighteen months and probably deserving rest more than anyone else, he at present is undoubtedly the most important Indian player after Sachin Tendulkar in the country. As years would pass, much literature would be used to analyze the saga of MSD, and hopefully he would continue to add feathers in his now overlarge cap. His fan-following too keeps growing at break-neck speed. Despite having every move of his under scrutiny, and the burdening pressure of millions to succeed every time, Dhoni has managed to win hearts with his simplistic and effective approach and uncomplicated way of looking at things. It does help that whatever he touches just turns to gold, what with all his smart decisions and endless victories. His batting too clicked when it mattered the most, right in the finals. It wasn’t surprising then when many suggested after the World Cup triumph to let Dhoni handle the affairs of the Govt. as well. He has had that kind of an impact.
One might say that he has achieved everything that is left to achieve, but knowing Dhoni he must have lots planned up his sleeve already. Like setting up the bench strength to fill the void once Sachin, Dravid and Laxman leave. More importantly, to maintain the number one status in Tests and One-dayers alike, that would be the prime motive now. To try and achieve the level of consistency champion teams like Australia have had. Whatever happens, no one can take away what Dhoni has already done. He is truly a champion if ever there was one. Of all his various tags there should perhaps now be a new one added to it; “The Bradman of Captaincy” which would suit him the best at the moment.
There was one thing common in all the main photo-ops of the World T20 and the 2011 World Cup victories, the captain, was hard to spot in those...Quietly mingling in the background he would let the younger lot and the older ones take the centre –stage and revel in their moment of glory, while he would just stand and smile his charming smile without going overboard even once…Most captains would have done the exact opposite…Most captains…Therein lies the difference…!!!