In the years 2003 and 2004, the English Cricket Board was pondering new ways to popularise the sport, with Twenty-20 cricket gathering steam. Though the 5-day long Test matches were still the favourite of die-hard followers and experts, at least some fans craved for a change which could bring much more energy and vigour to the gentleman’s game.
During this time, a precociously talented lad from Ranchi got a chance to represent India in the limited-overs format. The search for a quality wicket-keeping batsman had been going on for quite a while, and MS Dhoni was chosen on the basis of his impressive goalkeeping skills.
However, the debut turned out to be a forgettable experience for him, as the unfortunate chap got run-out in the very first delivery he faced. He had every reason to be upset as it was indeed one of the worst ways to start an international career. Keeping his head down, with an emotionless face, he went back to the pavilion.
But failure didn’t stand a chance against the mental fortitude of the young gun, as he was too good a warrior to succumb to a nervous breakdown. In fact, it was just the calm before the storm, a prologue to something really great.
Dhoni – ‘The Obliterator’
After some ordinary performances, Dhoni expressed himself in his 5th ODI, scoring a devastating 148 in just 123 deliveries against arch rivals Pakistan. It was a different experience altogether for the Indian cricket team fans who were used to Sachin’s elegance and Dravid’s patience. The opposition and the crowd were left spellbound watching the obliteration.
But the real ‘Dhoni’ got unleashed when he made an unbeaten 183 in 145 balls while chasing a daunting target of 299 set by Sri Lanka. The Lankan bowlers had absolutely no answer to Dhoni’s brute power as he clobbered them all around the park without any mercy. His 183 still remains the highest 2nd innings score in ODIs.
A long haired freak with a weird batting technique and astonishing hand-eye co-ordination – that was what the old Mahendra Singh Dhoni was all about. His square-cuts were fierce and ruthless. The ball disappeared into the crowd every single time it was pitched up.
Even yorkers were thrashed over the ropes with a wild swing of the willow. In fact, his bat-speed was so immense that in order to prevent the bat from going up to the sky along with the ball, he rotated his blade in his follow-through, thus ensuring that the surplus force was used as torque. This unconventional stroke was later named the ‘helicopter shot’, and Dhoni became its master.
However, experts weren’t satisfied with Dhoni’s unorthodox technique. They laughed at him when he drove the ball with little feet movement. They said his street-smart cricket wouldn’t last long as he would struggle in the Test arena. But Dhoni simply had other plans.
Dhoni – ‘The Captain Cool’
The first Test of the India vs England series of 2007 witnessed a different Dhoni whose gritty knock of 76 from 159 balls in the 2nd innings saved India from the jaws of an odds-on Test match defeat.
Despite such an awkward technique, Dhoni battled against the likes of James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom and emerged as the winner, thus silencing his critics.
His supple wrists and dogged determination were more than enough to compensate for his technical frailties. He developed his own way of playing each and every delivery and began to reap success in all formats.
Later in the same year, Dhoni got the chance to lead a young squad to the inaugural T20 World Cup. Without any hesitation, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. After defeating Pakistan in an exhilarating final, Dhoni and his men lifted the first ever T20 World Cup.
Dhoni’s inexplicable decision of giving the inexperienced Joginder Sharma the last over of the final went through serious contemplation, some criticising it as a lucky gamble. But Dhoni’s ability to remain calm under pressure was lauded by millions and eventually it marked the beginning of a new era.
After the 2007 World Cup debacle, India was in a dire need of someone who could fill the captain’s shoes. Sachin Tendulkar was the first name that popped up, considering his enormous experience in international cricket.
However, Sachin thought Dhoni would be a better choice to lead the Men in Blue. He saw a shrewd mind sleeping inside the beast and he asked Dhoni to be the skipper of the Indian ODI side.
Dhoni cut his long hair, something which he loved the most, as he knew that there wouldn’t be much time for vogue and swagger for the Indian skipper.
After receiving the reins of Test captaincy from Kumble, Dhoni became the full-time captain of India in all 3 formats. For the first time ever he took India to the Number 1 spot in Tests and reigned there for almost 2 years.
With the inception of the Indian Premier League in 2008, the Chennai franchise purchased the Indian skipper for a whopping 7.5 crore, the highest price for a player at that time. Dhoni’s schedule became more hectic with this new role of being the captain of the Chennai Super Kings, a team which he led to countless victories in the IPL.
In his leadership style, Dhoni was far different from the former skipper Ganguly. We could hardly see Dhoni celebrating success by thumping his fists in the air, nor could we see a Dhoni screaming at his players in tense situations.
He never indulged in any sort of verbal spats with the opposition, even if they provoked him. He remained a calm, cool and composed personality all the time.
But he was aggressive in his own way. His face resembled a calm sea while his brain was a beehive of activity. No matter whatever the condition, in the end he would get the job done quietly and neatly. He was a silent assassin.
The CB series victory in Australia, away series triumphs in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, 2010 Asia Cup and finally the 2011 World Cup triumph. He didn’t stop there. A 4-0 clean sweep against the mighty Aussies in 2013 at home, followed by becoming two-time IPL champions…captaincy records began to tumble before his sharp cricket acumen.
Dhoni’s captaincy had always been studded with enigmatic moves. He plays according to his instincts, and one has to acknowledge the success he garnered through his unconventional style. Dhoni shocked even the greats by taking the bold decision of giving the diffident Ishant Sharma the 17th over of the 2013 Champions trophy final.
However, the move turned out to be a pivotal moment in the match and eventually he became the first captain in the history of the game to win all three ICC trophies. From 2009 to 2014, he got undisputedly selected as the captain of either the ICC Test team of the year or the ODI team of the year.
But the burden of captaincy didn’t affect Dhoni’s batting at all, as he still averages more than 50 at a healthy strike rate close to 90 in the ODI format. The fact that he has amassed 8832 runs from 270 matches and is also the fifth fastest to the 8,000 run milestone are too large to be overlooked. He is also the only player who has fetched the ‘ICC ODI player of the year award’ two consecutive times.