Ready for next phase

Ready for next phase

Cricket: After completing five years as Indian captain, M S Dhoni still has some unfinished business ahead of him

Ready for next phase

There are many aspects that Mike Brearley, regarded as one of the finest cricketing brains, doesn’t share with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India’s most successful captain if not the best.

Where the Cambridge-educated Englishman comes across as an intellectual saint, Dhoni, whose love for fast bikes and guns is well-documented, keeps a safe distance from sophisticated intelligence.

Where Brearley has seamlessly slipped into roles of journalist and author post his retirement, it’s hard to imagine Dhoni having anything to do with the written world once he is done with his career. And where the former England captain derived much of his strategies from his wealth of information about the game, Dhoni, with streaks of luck on his side, has led the side on intuition and has found unparalleled success.

As different as the chalk is from the cheese when it comes to their personalities, Dhoni and Brearley do have certain cricketing traits that are similar. Much like Brearley, who wasn’t the best player of the sides he led, Dhoni isn’t certainly the most gifted of his team-mates, in fact far from it. That Brearley’s on-field exploits pale when compared to his team-mates like Ian Botham, Bob Willis, David Gower, Geoff Boycott among others, would be an understatement. A batting average of just under 23 in 39 Tests seldom fetches a place in a Test side, let alone getting the honour of leading that side.

Likewise, Dhoni might have developed himself into one of the finest batsmen in shorter versions, but anyone else with his batting average in Tests, fewer than 39 after 69 appearances, would have lost his place in the side long back. His wicket-keeping skills are limited, though he has found a way to mask those shortcomings, at least in the sub-continental conditions where the ball doesn’t swing.

Those limitations hasn’t stopped Dhoni’s rise to the top post, with many factors contributing to it. Despite his towering stature, Sachin Tendulkar was never at peace with himself during his two stints as the Indian captain. Rahul Dravid, in spite of tasting great success as captain, quit the post as he stopped enjoying the role. It would have been a travesty had Anil Kumble, India’s greatest wicket-taker, not got an opportunity to lead the side towards the end of his career. Kumble’s retirement in 2008 completed the coronation of Dhoni as the captain in all formats, a journey that began a little over five years ago in South Africa at the inaugural World T20.

Then captain Dravid’s decision to pull out of the T20 meet along with Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, might have forced the Dilip Vengsarkar-headed selection committee to opt for Dhoni but it did come as a bit of a surprise that he had managed to pip the more-established players like Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag.

Since that fairytale win in the final on September 24, 2007 at Johannesburg, Dhoni’s rise has been meteoric, even coming close to challenging the pan-Indian popularity of Tendulkar. The only captain to have led India to World T20 and the 50-over World Cup titles (in 2011), Dhoni also presided over India’s rise to the No 1 spot in Test rankings in 2009, an honour they held till their tour of England in mid 2011. Not to forget his two IPL and a Champions League T20 crowns with the Chennai Super Kings.

It’s both astonishing and fascinating that a player coming from India’s cricketing outpost, Ranchi, and with an average talent, has managed to pull off things that the universally acknowledged best ones have failed to accomplish. Dhoni can’t be credited with good man-management skills for there often have been reports of him being at loggerheads with certain players.

Yes, just like Sourav Ganguly, he is also blessed to have some of the best players India has ever had, but there’s more to Dhoni’s captaincy than just the kind of teams he has had over the years. Notwithstanding his enviable CV as the captain, his tenure at the helm of late has been punctured with some of the biggest defeats ever and he has often battled personal lack of form in Tests. One of his bigger achievements has to be the fact that he has survived the axe despite India’s two 0-4 whitewashes in England and Australia and the subsequent scrutiny.

It could be the lack of a right alternative or his much-talked about luck but one of his major strengths has been his ability to stay unruffled even under great duress. Day in and day out the way he faced the barrage from the media during defeats in England and Australia, spoke volumes about the man’s almost meditative state of mind. Never did he lose his composure nor did he hide himself under too many excuses as he answered questions often with a smile on his face.

It might have been the smart way to deal with the situation but it still demands a tremendous amount of patience and maybe even a certain degree of self deprecation like he showed on Friday night after India’s defeat to Australia in the World T20 Super Eight contest.

“Frankly I’m bad at analysing (batting) technique because you have seen my technique, I am not the perfect gentleman to answer on that,” he said without trace of hesitation when asked about Rohit Sharma’s problems with incoming deliveries.

Dhoni may not possess fancy degrees nor does he have that urbane suave in him, but he is nothing if not street smart. Over a period of time he has tried to cut himself off the rest of the world to keep unaffected by off-field issues. “For me no news channels, no newspapers and no phones. So that really helps if you haven’t heard anything,” he said on his way of dealing with controversial stuff.

“Once you are done with a tournament or a series, you can think about all these things. It’s important that I’m thinking in the right direction. It’s up to each individual how he deals with it. The energy we are spending, it’s important that we spend it on cricketing aspects – the nets and the fielding sessions and all those areas,” he reasoned.

The trust of the players, Dhoni felt, was crucial in leading a happy dressing room. “The most important thing is that how understanding your team-mates are,” he pointed out.

“Yes, there are a lot of issues that will be floating off the field but the important thing is to ignore them as much as possible. The reason being that the expectations levels are too high and international cricket is a lot more stressful. There are things like this that you can ignore and channel your energies in the right areas. You are much better off focusing on your cricket and your skills,” he explained.

Surely easier said than done but, as they say, there’s no better way to maintain a happy team than winning matches. In that respect, Dhoni has faced problems in recent times but with India set to play at home till early next year, the return to winning ways that has begun with a 2-0 drubbing of New Zealand, may just herald another phase in Dhoni’s captaincy career.

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