After MS Dhoni accepted the World Cup Trophy on the marquee night of 2nd April 2011 amidst rivers of champagne and hullabaloo of the crackers, he quietly handed over the holy grail of cricket to his comrades and walked away. There was the Indian captain who’d just decimated the Sri Lankan attack and sealed the World Cup with a six, but one who never cared about hogging the limelight. His humility and ‘coolness’ were described as his greatest virtues as writers broke pens in writing treatises on his iconic leadership. Fast forward to January 2012: India had just suffered their worst away Test debacle in decades (4-0 reverses to both England and Australia) and Dhoni’s own form was nothing to write home about (he scored 322 runs in 8 Tests at an average of 25.91). However, the bigger question which emerged was about Dhoni’s leadership style: was it too defensive and reactive, did it lack the aggressiveness required to succeed at the top level, was he the man for the job any more? The chorus for his ouster intensified and the writing seemed to be on the wall – was Dhoni’s honeymoon over?
If media reports and Mohinder Amarnath are to be believed, it was just the case. The then selection committee had decided to oust him from the pinnacle, only to be stopped by the BCCI President (whose relationship with Mahi is well documented). There are two well established schools of thought here. One which was batting for Dhoni’s ouster from captaincy and the team (at least from Tests) on account of him appearing out of depth and form and the other which was supporting him because given the options, he was still the best person to lead the team (a view backed by Rahul Dravid). I beg to offer a slightly different perspective here. In my view, Dhoni was not the captain just because there was no one else to replace him, but because he deserved the post. As he remarked after conceding the ‘revenge’ series to England (after a gap of 27 years), “The easiest thing for me to say right now is ‘I quit captaincy’ and be a part of the side. But that’s like running away from the responsibility.”
This comment was given no more importance than an excuse of a desperado trying his best to prolong his captaincy. However, if we dissect further, we come across the honesty and maturity with which he handled the situation. No cricketer likes to lose, and more so a double World Cup winning captain. What Dhoni did during those trying days (which haven’t passed yet) was not easy. He could have as well lambasted his underperforming players, brought out the classic defence of ‘A captain is only as good as the team’ and quit. But men like Dhoni are made of sterner steel. He knew that publicly flogging his young squad and making scapegoats would only kill the team, let alone salvage its identity. Like a true leader, he faced the fire of the critics on his own and tried to shield the youngsters from scathing criticism. Of course, he would have vented his frustration on his teammates away from the public censor, but this move sent a very strong signal of “I’m there for you” to them.
It is not my intention to prove that Dhoni is ‘God’ and eulogize his heroics. He has made multiple mistakes in the past and may continue to make them. But what’s certain is that he’ll be the first person to raise his hand to accept them, and move forward. I still remember the frustration fans felt when he promoted a certain Ravindra Jadeja up the order in the crucial super-six game against England in the 2009 T-20 World Cup (which led to a humiliating exit for the defending champions), or his baffling field placements when India had to restrict South Africa to 121 runs to reach the semi finals of 2012 T20 World Cup. Instances like those have been far too many for the fans’ liking, but what people forget is that the roll of dice doesn’t always fall in one’s favour.
When we chastise something which failed, we have the backing of history with us. Had Napoleon known that the Russian winter would wipe out half of his army or Hitler known that invading Russia during WWII would cost him the war, would they have taken the same actions? What if the move to give Joginder Sharma the final over of World T20 had backfired? What if Dhoni’s decision to promote himself on the 2nd of April had boomeranged? Leaders like Dhoni don’t believe in ‘what if’ lest it should stop them from taking decisions. They live with their choices, irrespective of the way they span out, and are outright honest about it.
Geoffrey Boycott recently quipped that India were lucky to have Dhoni in these tumultuous times, and I agree no less. His temperament and commitment have been questioned at times, but the detractors forget that Dhoni is not only Brahma the creator, but also Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer when needed. If he destroyed Australia with a buccaneering 224 in Chennai three days back, he also grafted his way to 99 against England in the Nagpur Test and blocked for all money against them at Lord’s on his way to a match saving 76 in 2007. And all these examples are from the longer version of the game, one which apparently isn’t cut out for him.
My only plea to our cricket loving fans is “Question and debate his tactics all you want, but by no means question his commitment, passion and drive for the country” because for someone who first saw him bat much before he made his international debut in 2004, these tirades are nothing but poisoned arrows.
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