What will MS Dhoni be best remembered for?
As Mahendra Singh Dhoni is entering the twilight of his career, a flood of memories has started to encircle the minds of ardent cricket fans.
Many of us will always associate him with his batting and captaincy exploits on the field. The 148 against Pakistan that announced his arrival in international cricket, the 183 against Sri Lanka, winning the ICC T20 and ODI World Cup, leading Chennai Super Kings to three IPL titles, or for that matter the innumerable last-over finishes - all of these things will remain etched in the memory for posterity.
But apart from recollecting his stupendous contribution to cricket, it is also important to recollect what he brought to the game off the pitch - and that is his personality.
Dhoni's personality can be best inferred from his tenure as captain. Dhoni the captain was a rare combination of a surgeon, astute tactician and tightrope walker.
With a clear mind like a surgeon, he always knew the ideal playing combination for a particular game. On several occasions he emphasized the importance of playing the ‘right XI’ rather than ‘best XI.’
Dhoni also keenly observes the batsman’s style of playing and accordingly sets the field and advises the bowlers (especially spinners) how to bowl. Time and again that has yielded fruitful results.
The astute tactical abilities of Dhoni can be viewed from two angles. First, he is a clever gambler. No captain would have given the ball to a mediocre bowler like Joginder Sharma over the experienced Harbhajan Singh in the final over of the 2007 T20 World Cup.
Secondly, he also redefined the role of several cricketers, and those decisions had a remarkable impact on them. Be it the decision to open with Rohit Sharma or the choice of using Ravichandran Ashwin in the power plays, Dhoni always ensured that he brought out the best in everyone.
Finally, as a tightrope walker, Dhoni always knew that any controversial move that he made would be severely questioned by former cricketers, media and experts - but still made them anyway. He took the bold decision of dropping senior players (Sachin, Sehwag and Gambhir) in the Commonwealth Bank series and cited poor fielding as a reason.
In hindsight, this move proved to be a master stroke as the current Indian outfit is one of the best fielding sides in the world.
Dhoni's press conferences were always filled with tongue-in-cheek replies along with a strong touch of candor. The credentials of Dhoni cannot be deciphered from just tangible things like statistics; all the intangible things like his wit, candor and boldness have to be considered too.
One has to be an avid follower of the game to decode the immense value that Dhoni has added to Indian cricket. His captaincy was the gold standard in how to nurturing new talent and place the team’s interests over personal interests.
Former Indian team coach Gary Kirsten once aptly said, "I would go to war with Dhoni by my side". Who wouldn’t?