A World T20 win; an ICC World Cup Victory; number one team in Tests and ODIs; a couple of IPL and a Champions League title thrown in. One man, in the span of a few years has achieved all this; not just as a player but as a captain. Mahendra Singh Dhoni truly is captain fantastic.
A captain almost by accident, it would seem, not many gave the then long-haired wicketkeeper batsman a second look when he took charge of the Indian team for the first time ever in the ICC T20 in 2007. India, of course, went on to win that and Dhoni went from strength to strength.
Those who have observed Dhoni are aware of all that he is – cool, calm, and composed. Seldom does one get to see him absolutely lose it, however bad the situation might be. He always seems to be on top of the situation, however tense it might be. Some may even go to the extent of saying that he seems not to care at all; to be above it all. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps they are not.
Great captains have always been great leaders of men. Mahi, as he is fondly called, most certainly fits that bill. He seems to be able to command a respect rather than just demanding it. As an illustration of this, all one needs to look at is the face of a fielder who misfields or throws to the wrong end. One will quickly see that the fielder is very quick to make sure that he does not catch the captain’s eye. That is fear, alright. However, it is not a fear borne out of tyranny; it is one borne out of disappointment.
They say that one can be a great leader only if he shows his troops the way; a great captain ought to walk the walk rather than just talk the talk and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, time and again, has done just that. Perhaps one of the most famous instances of this is his promoting himself ahead of Yuvraj, who was in peak form, during the final of the World Cup. He knew that his moment was then, that he had to do it rather than have it done for him and the rest, as they say, is history.
He seems to do it when his team needs him the most – that knock at Dharmashala in the IPL, who can forget? He also seems to do things that, to most, defy conventional wisdom. He seems to thrive on the unnatural, and almost revel in rebellion.
There are captains who lead sides efficiently. They bring on bowlers who they know will succeed in the given situation; they play percentage cricket. He, however, is a captain who leads by instinct. He does what he believes to be right; he trusts his gut as much as he does his brain but most of all, he backs his ability. The most famous example of this is giving Joginder Sharma the last over in the final of the World Cup; not many would’ve dared, not any, dare I say. The important thing is that he is ready to face the music when the decision backfires. He takes flak for what goes wrong and that, surely, is a sign of a great captain.
Another thing that is most striking about Dhoni is that he seems almost indifferent to defeat and victory. It almost seems as if they are both the same. To a casual onlooker, it might seem that he is utterly uninterested. Quite the opposite, actually. The man is deeply passionate about the sport and the team he commands, and behind the calm demeanour is a man who is cold and calculated.
The wonderful thing about Dhoni is that at times he seems to be at a loss, all at sea, and having not a clue in the world. Some times, he genuinely is, but occasions like that are a rarity. Most of the time, he is plotting; plotting not one move ahead but many. He suddenly makes a bowling change and sure enough, a wicket falls. He subtly changes the field and sure enough, a catch goes to the fielder who is stationed at the new position.
He truly believes in horses for courses and he inspires such confidence in his players that they automatically give it their all, and a bit more. The fantastic thing about Dhoni is that he is not afraid to go anti-establishment. Some might feel that his treatment of some of the senior players was unfair, but most of those decisions he took for he believed them to be right, and in most of the cases, the decisions turned out to be right.
There are people who are calling for his head now in the wake of the continuous defeats in Tests overseas but it must be noted that a captain is only as good as his army. A great captain is not just a great leader of men; he is a commander, a stalwart and a hero. M.S. Dhoni, whether people like him or not, is a fantastic captain, one who is bold, fearless and brilliant.