I don’t belong to the special category of the over-zealous fans of Mahendra Singh Dhoni who are always on the lookout for the slightest possibility to song hosannas for their icon. His shortcomings in the Test circuit are well known in the public by now, and fans and critics alike are calling for his head owing to his team’s dismal performance in Test matches over the last 2 years. Yet, his emotions are always in check and his expressions always obey the rules he has set for himself over the last few years. His phlegmatic manners suggest that he conducts himself in cricket with an air of serenity – as never seen before! There are too many feathers in his cap by now, yes, too many! But some of those feathers have been ruffled badly of late. Test cricket has become a graveyard for this man who was once getting rich accolades for being the first captain of the Indian team to have taken India to the apogee of the Test rankings. There seems to be no way out for him in that respect – he was never technically gifted much, and nor was he adept at showing sparks of finesse in his batting attitude. But he has never learnt to ‘give up’ – and his grit has been instrumental in lifting him out of ugly quagmires time and again.
It was no different this time – India had been made to bite the dust in Tests very recently by England; they scarcely managed to square both the T20 series (against England and then against Pakistan) on the back of some power-packed performances by the comeback man Yuvraj Singh, and the panoramic view of Indian cricket was not looking idyllic and encouraging, to say the least. The team had been morally beaten; match-winning performances from the team members had become sporadic and highly erratic, Dhoni’s captaincy had come under severe doubts, and the team coordination had gone haywire. It called for urgent action before the start of this ODI series against Pakistan, but what was the captain expected to do? Behind the scenes, he might have been expected to groom youngsters, instill some feisty confidence in them besides trying to preserve a link with the doting lot in the dressing room. But such plans had been failing time and again in the recent past, and elaborate team meetings were not proving to be enough in driving home any crucial conclusion to the entire team. So what actually was the captain supposed to do under such circumstances? Perform or perish? The gutsy skipper chose the first option, with untrammeled determination and mental strength. His charismatic valor was being put to a silent death by the harsh turn of circumstances, but he did not give up. He rose like a phantom from his grave, like a rejuvenated phoenix from its ashes, like an Undertaker from the coffin. And the occasion was just perfect for this metamorphosis – India vs Pakistan, the arch-rivals locking horns with each other in a bilateral series after a span of more than half a decade.
Conditions were fit for the Pakistani bowlers to exploit, and they did that very adroitly. India, put in to bat under overcast and humid conditions in Chennai were under the grind from the very start. The top 5 were removed with stupendous ease as the score meandered to 29, the ball doing all sorts of tricks under the crafty guidance of the Pakistani bowlers. The team was down once again; the pre-planned stratagems had fallen flat on their faces once again and it was left to the Indian skipper to perform an Undertaker-esque act of rescue for the team. And nobody on earth, except the captain himself, could have expected to see him come out of the ordeal with flying colours. Ably aided by Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin, Dhoni began a saga of reconstruction for his team. He kept pushing and jabbing at the ball for the better part of his innings, kept rotating the strike, never let the run-rate dip too much and kept labouring in the classical workman style, in which he has made a name for himself in ODI cricket. The captain kept milking the bowlers craftily, increasing the team score ever so slowly with every delivery. The adverse weather conditions made this gritty Dhoni effort look more majestic and heroic. Despite being beaten down by the heat and humidity of Chennai and frequently troubled by the ensuing cramps, he kept running like a colt chasing the dream of his life. He went through the first 78 balls of innings without a single boundary, but decided to let the floodgates open as the Indian innings started approaching its fag end. He took on the debutant Mohammad Irfan and slaughtered him for 21 runs in the penultimate over of the innings and in the process, completed his 8th ODI century with a glorious hit for 6 over cover. He was still not finished, and the urgency with which he ran two doubles in the last over of the innings was enough to show how determined the captain was to fight with the predicaments that his own providence was gifting him time and again.
Yes, it was an innings of the highest class and caliber, an innings that displayed streaks of fiery valour in the Indian skipper, sending a message to the whole team to follow his footsteps and not take circumstances for granted. It was an innings reminding us of the breathtaking 175 that Kapil Dev had once hit against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup; that was the captain’s knock that refurbished the team morale at that time. It was an innings that had motivated the team by leaps and bounds and the motivation that later manifested itself in India’s first World Cup triumph! Dhoni’s innings might have come in a losing cause, but is also vaguely reminiscent of the fighting century that Alastair Cook – the English skipper – had scored in the first Test of the recently-concluded Test series against India. Cook’s century may not have saved the match for his team, but it heralded better things to come; it left footprints on the sands of time for the struggling Englishmen and it was that precious innings that instilled the belief in the hitherto timid Englishmen that even they could beat the mighty Indians at home. So what if we have lost today? We have got what we needed, and we needed just what the captain has given us – The intention to win under adverse circumstances. Kapil Dev did that nearly 30 years ago, Alastair Cook did that 30 days ago, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has done that yesterday. Let there be no qualms about the fact that this effort from Dhoni shall not go in vain and that the Indian team which is famished for success shall see through the darkness. It is my strong belief that the turn of circumstances shall begin now for the Indian team, given they take proper lessons from the superhuman efforts of their captain, just as their predecessors did in 1983 and the touring Englishmen did a month ago.
The scenario is just appropriate to reiterate Albus Dumbledore’s divine words to Harry Potter – “There is light even in darkness, but only if you choose to look at it.” I feel that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has today, shown the entire team just how to choose that bit of light and sail out of the darkness!