As the title suggests, it’s not about the weird kind of defensive prod that he has made his trademark over the years, but to the detractors of Dhoni who have always managed to find something wrong with our “Captain Cool”, no matter how much success and laurels he has brought to the country. I admit he has had his share of failures and they were even more dramatic and huge because it was “Dhoni” who failed. But being the kind of player that he is, he has learnt to take both victories and defeats in his stride. That is the mark of a champion player and captain.
When I first saw MS Dhoni in a match, I said to myself, “That is horrible technique” both while batting and keeping. His front foot defence was so pathetic that even a tailender could have done better than him. I, on that day, felt that he was a part of experiment from the BCCI in pursuit of a wicket keeper for the Indian team since other players like Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel had failed miserably. I thought he wouldn’t stay long in the international circuit because he never looked like a professional keeper, let alone a batsman. It was the time when wicket keepers like Sangakkara and Gilchrist were plying their trade, and comparing them with Dhoni, I felt that the selectors had made a terrible mistake by selecting him. But today, I’m proud to say I was quite wrong on both the counts. He went on to become one of the best limited overs batsman that India has ever produced and his keeping is second to none today.
His very first ton came up in a grand fashion against the Pakistan. Having no inhibitions about getting out, this young lad from Jharkhand launched a scathing attack that is remembered fondly by many Indian fans even today. His 148 saw many records being broken that day, including the highest score for a Indian wicket keeper. Even on that day, I thought this “slogger” won’t stay for long because he was, according to me, playing “blind cricket” where he looked like he was swinging the bat wildly every ball. But he kept improving on this “slog hitting” technique of his and brought up a brilliant unbeaten 183 against the Lankans while chasing, which remains the highest individual score by any batsman while chasing.
What he lacked in technique, he made it up with good fitness, agility and solid temperament. The way he kept scoring runs, it was impossible to drop him or ignore him from the team. He showed us – the aspiring cricketers – that to succeed at the highest level, one does need to be born with cricketing talent. Good fitness levels, playing to your strengths and knowing your game were more than enough to sustain yourself at the highest level. For these qualities alone, you can find millions of fans in cricket circles all around the world.
For all those who thought that being the hard hitting batsman was the best that Dhoni could have offered to Indian Cricket, they were terribly wrong. When Dhoni was made the captain of the Indian limited overs team, he had a very young squad at his disposal. The team was going through a transition phase just when Dhoni was made the captain. Playing poorly in the 50 over World Cup had hurt Dhoni the most and he came out to prove his critics wrong. He was determined to do something for the Indian cricket fans and hence took some hard decisions on and out off the field. There wasn’t a single player from the fab four in the Indian team when he got the captaincy. His decision to induct “young blood” became his mantra in the latter years.
Though he wasn’t the original choice for captaincy, he handled himself and his team with great dignity and pride on and off the field. He showed immense faith in his team and backed them to the hilt, a trait Sourav Ganguly was known for. In the 2007 T20 World Cup in South Africa, he led the team to the ultimate glory of winning a World Cup, which had been eluding the team for quite sometime. And after the win, he took the backstage and let his players soak in the moment, showing the world that he only meant business.
More glory followed up when Dhoni successfully led the limited over team to series victories in Australia and Sri Lanka and to the final in the Asia Cup in the year 2008. The most remarkable thing to note in that tournament was Dhoni was the only player who was able to play the “mystery spinner” Mendis with considerable ease.
Dhoni was revolutionizing Indian Cricket with his skilled batting, cool demeanor and super effective captaincy. He was not afraid to take risks and take the blame when the team failed. He led his team to the finals of the inaugural edition of IPL and missed the trophy by a whisker. Dhoni had the privilege of leading Chennai Super Kings to five consecutive semi finals, making the finals three times and winning the coveted trophy twice. He has led the team to successive IPL titles and a Champions League title in the year 2010, making him the most successful captain in IPL history.
Dhoni’s record has been immaculate and staggering since he took over captaincy. He has had overseas victories in countries like Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa, Bangladesh and New Zealand. The only odd blemishes in Dhoni’s career are the series defeats against England in England, Australia in Australia and the early exits in two ICC World Cup T20 tournaments.
His biggest triumph came in the year 2011 when India won the 50 over World Cup playing at home after almost 28 years. Going into the tournament as hot favorites, the Indian team lived upto the expectations by lifting the World Cup on 2nd of April. Dhoni played a huge role in the victory by backing the out-of-form Yuvraj, who put up brilliant all round performances throughout the tournament and also giving Kohli enough chances to settle down in the team. But the biggest contribution was his own unbeaten knock of 91 in 79 balls to seal the World Cup for India when India were tottering at one stage. He truly showed his class and came up with a brilliant innings in the final. The icing on the cake was the six he hit off Kulasekara to take India home. This moment has been defined as one of the “finest moments” of Indian Cricket.
As a batsman, Dhoni has set a bench mark for himself and future Indian players. He, who was once a pure hitter and played as a floater in the batting order, improved his game to become one of the finest finishers and middle order batsman the world has ever seen. With his average (which is over 50) and a strike rate of almost 90, Dhoni has emerged as one of the greatest limited overs batsman. There are only a few who can equal his record in the limited overs format.
Dhoni’s tactics have sometimes been questionable and defensive. He likes to take the innings till the last over of the game when he bats and tends to finish it off with a flourish. This has sometimes been done successfully and sometimes failed miserably. But the most important thing to note in this is the fact that the game is never lost till the last ball is bowled. So if you take the game till the last over, the bowlers will be under pressure to bowl a good over and this might result in mistakes. Dhoni always likes to play on the minds of the bowlers by not throwing away his wicket, and keeps the batting together. This has helped India win many matches, and yes it has cost us matches too. But one can’t always be in the winning team and one has to acknowledge that even the “best laid plans” can go awfully wrong when the day is not yours. To put it in Dhoni’s words “Winning and losing are part and parcel of the game”.
To be the captain of a team like India, where millions of people follow your every action and word, to be the kind of finisher that he is, to handle a team filled with stalwarts with ease is not a easy job. And I’m proud to say that Dhoni has done all these admirably. He has taught many aspiring cricketers to dream big, no matter how small their present status is, to play to their strengths and has been a inspiration for them showing them that “At the end of the day, it is the performance that matters and nothing else!”.