MS Dhoni has been one of the best leaders in the history of the game. He debuted in 2004 and soon enhanced his reputation as a hard hitting batsman.
When he was given the leadership in 2007 on Tendulkar's recommendation, many had raised their eyebrows, asserting he wouldn't be a long term option. But the way he led the team in the World T20 2007 with calmness by making some decisive decisions, convinced everyone that the selectors had got their call right.
Dhoni has led with distinction and holds the world record of captaining India in 332 International matches which includes 60 Tests, 200 ODIs and 72 T20s. He is also the most successful Indian captain in Tests with 27 wins and in ODIs with 110 wins. Dhoni has also been the only leader to win all the 3 major ICC tournaments to go with 3 IPLs, 2 CL T20s and 2 Asia Cups.
When you captain a side for almost 10 years, you take some crucial decisions and you make many careers along the way. Dhoni has been at the helm of this transformation where he led the team in two different eras. In one era, he led a team filled with legends and the second era of his captaincy had some exuberant youngsters who were finding their feet in international cricket.
Lets take a look at some of the decisions taken by Dhoni which defined the roadmap of Indian cricket.
#1 Not fiddling with Tendulkar's opening slot
When Sourav Ganguly captained India in early 2000s, he made Sachin bat at number 4 to accommodate Sehwag at the top of the order. India had partial success with this combination. Sachin was not the same player at number 4 as he could not dictate terms at the top of the order. He came back to play at the top in the 2003 cricket World Cup and had astounding success.
This scenario repeated under the leadership of Rahul Dravid in late 2006 before the World Cup, when Sachin was again asked to bat at 4 on the insistence of Greg Chappell. India had a terrible run at the 2007 World Cup and Sachin scored a solitary fifty against Bermuda.
When Dhoni took over the captaincy, he ensured that Sachin always stayed at the top and he was never made to move around in the batting order. Gambhir being an opener was asked to bat at 3 and Sachin with the company of Virender Sehwag forged a formidable partnership at the top of the order.
Sachin played some of his best cricket during this phase from 2007 to 2011. He started with a couple of match winning knocks, scoring 117 and 95 versus Australia in the CB series finals in 2008. Sachin scored another mach winning 138 versus Sri Lanka in the Celkon Cup final in 2009. He made scores of 163, 175 and became the first man to score 200 in ODIs. He became the most successful Indian batsman in World Cup 2011 by scoring 482 runs with a couple of centuries and two fifties.
#2 Not dropping Kohli from the Test Side
There was hardly any doubt about Kohli's prowess in ODIs. Kohli had scored quite a few centuries before the 2011 World Cup and established himself as a number 4 in the strong Indian batting line up. But he did not have a good start in Test cricket. When Kohli debuted against the West Indies in 2011, he was clearly troubled by the short delivery and struggled against the moving ball.
When he failed in a couple of matches in Australia, the team management wanted to drop Kohli. MS Dhoni, looking into the future selected Kohli for the next match in Perth and he responded with a responsible 44 and 75. He scored his maiden Test century in the next Test in Adelaide and repaid the faith of his captain.
Even though he became a regular in the Test side and had a successful South African Test tour with 272 runs in 2 Tests, he miserably failed in England scoring 134 runs in 5 Test matches. However Dhoni took all the flak and defended his batsman, telling the media that it was a matter of time before Kohli came back to form.
Once he went to Australia and scored those 4 centuries in the 2014-15 series, he has become a world beater and has been simply unstoppable. Kohli became the quickest to 24 centuries in Test cricket after the great Sir Don and has scored 16 hundreds as a Test captain with 4233 runs at 65.
Such has been his influence that experts and former cricketers have already labeled him as the "Greatest ever" even though he has a good 7-8 years left in his career.
#3 Making Rohit Sharma an opener in the shortest formats
Rohit Sharma was always the talented one. It was evident in the way he timed the ball in the 2007 World T20. Inspite of having this outstanding ability, he somehow couldn't cement his place in the Indian team. He was always in and out of the team due to his inconsistent performances.This didn't deter MS Dhoni from selecting him time and again and giving him opportunities to prove himself at the highest level.
2013 Champions Trophy became a turning point in Rohit's career when he was asked to open. Before the tournament, he did not have success as an opener in the couple of warm up games. When people felt Murali Vijay would open with Shikhar Dhawan, Dhoni threw up a surprise by asking Rohit to open with Shikhar and the duo added 127 versus South Africa in the tournament opener and as they say the rest is history.
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have become the second most successful opening pair for India with 13 century stands. They have dominated attacks all over the world and have a combined total of 35 ODI centuries between them.
Rohit has gone on to become one of the best openers in limited overs with a combined total of 22 centuries in ODIs and T20s. He has scored an unbelievable 3 double hundreds to go with the joint fastest T20 century in 35 balls.
This makes it quite clear why Dhoni always wanted Rohit in the side. What he had seen in 2007 with Rohit took some time to unfold in front of the cricketing world.
#4 Selecting Ravichandran Ashwin in the Test Side
Ravi Ashwin came into the scene with the IPL and was always considered as an X-factor in the CSK team. Some consistent performances in the IPL, got him into the Indian side and he tasted success against New Zealand in 2010, which made captain Gautam Gambhir to say that he was one of the finds of the series.
Harbhajan was still the senior spinner in the team and he always had his injury problems. This prompted Dhoni to select Ashwin in the Test side and he had a dream debut picking 9 wickets against West Indies and capped off the series with a century in Wankhede. He even won the Man of the Series for his efforts. This convinced Dhoni about his abilities after which he started sidelining Harbhajan.
Ashwin faced flak for his over his performances against England in 2012 after which he roared back into form in 2013 picking 31 wickets against Australia. After this series he consolidated his position with top performances against South Africa in 2015.
We saw the best of Ashwin after the start of 2016 where he spun India to series wins against New Zealand, West Indies, England and Australia. He improved his overseas performances and has become one of the leading spinners in the world.
This was one of Dhoni's masterstrokes which has paid rich dividends for Indian Cricket.
#5 Inducting Jasprit Bumrah into the Indian side
When Zaheer Khan retired in the shorter formats, India found it difficult to contain rampaging oppositions in the death overs, where teams would make a mockery of the Indian bowling. This continued during the 2013 home ODI series against Australia where targets of 350 were a norm. India had tried a few bowlers in the death overs and none of them had an impact.
This trouble did not surface in the league phases of the 2015 World Cup, where India were clinical in bowling out oppositions. Unfortunately this problem resurfaced against Australia in the all-important semi finals when Australia scored 330 and India lost the match by 95 runs. This continued against South Africa in the home series where AB de Villiers scored runs for fun in the death overs.
When we all felt that this would be a perennial problem for India, MS Dhoni pulled a rabbit out of the hat when he selected Bumrah in the side in 2016 against Australia. He immediately had an impact in Sydney picking 2 for 40 in 10 overs in a game where a total of 660 runs were scored.
Bumrah had much bigger impact in the T20 series by picking 6 wickets and his yorkers and slower ones were too hard to handle. India won the series 3-0 and India had found a new star in Jasprit Bumrah.
Over the years he has become one of the top bowlers in world cricket and he has tasted success in all the 3 formats. He is the number one bowler in ODIs with 78 wickets from 44 matches. Bumrah is seen as one of the trump cards for India going into the World Cup and his performance in the death overs maybe decisive for India.
Bumrah had impressive performances against South Africa and England picking 29 wickets in 6 Test matches and he was also praised for his skill and temperament.
MS Dhoni, who felt Bumrah to be a bit unusual in the IPL, spotted this yorker machine when India were struggling to find a death overs specialist.