Kapil Dev has fans. So have Sunny Gavaskar and Amitabh Bachchan. So has Mahendra Singh Dhoni, known popularly as MSD or Mahi or simply Dhoni. However the difference and how Dhoni is unique is that he has managed to probably have apart from many fans, a huge number of detractors as well, so much so that it is almost a kind of polarisation.
Today, 7th July is Mahi’s birthday. Let us explore a few aspects of this superstars intriguing personality.
Stability and longevity
MSD brought stability to the Indian team as a wicketkeeper batsman ever since he made his ODI debut in 2004 and Test debut in 2005. Before that there was virtually a carousel and merry-go-round of wicketkeepers. MSK Prasad, Vijay Dahiya, Deep Dasgupta Ajay Ratra, Sameer Dighe, Nayan Mongia, Saba Karim, Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthick were various keepers tried for varying periods.
Dhoni’s selection and his subsequent performances sealed the spot.
Hats off to Dada, the one and only Sourav Ganguly. Number 3 was Dada’s chosen spot, with India’s destructive openers being Sachin and Sehwag. MSD was playing just his 5th ODI and his highest score was 12. In his previous match he had batted at 7, and had scored 3. However Dada showed his instinctive genius as captain to send at one drop, and Dhoni scored a magnificent 148 and helped India amass a winning 346. India had found a new destructive batsman.
T20 was a new format. India’s stalwarts Sachin, Sourav and Dravid opted out of the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 and the selectors sprung a surprise by naming Dhoni as the Captain. In his 1st match, he took an innovative decision by choosing 3 slower bowlers Sehwag, Harbhajan and Uthappa for the “bowlout” and they struck timber all three times while Pakistani quicks led by Umar Gul failed. In the final, his selection of Joginder Sharma over Harbhajan was praised as it clicked big time. However there was a shrewd understanding of the game behind such “gambles”. For instance while the experienced Bhajji had conceded 36 in his 3 overs, Joginder had conceded just 13 in his 3. So there was method in the “madness”.
Dhoni’s unorthodox thinking would be a highlight of his captaincy.
Former BCCI President Sharad Pawar later revealed that it was Sachin who had recommended the name of MSD for captaincy.
After India’s disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign, Dhoni captained the ODI team after Dravid stepped down. Interestingly India lost his 1st series as Captain to Australia 2-4. However the selectors clearly had a long term plan in mind and Dhoni continued as ODI captain which spectacularly paid off with India winning the ODI world cup in 2011.
In 2015 too India, a team in disarray, against all odds entered the semifinals but had no chance against a thoroughly professional Australian side at home. An interesting aspect of how Dhoni operates as Captain was seen when he took bowlers Ishant, Mohit, and BK to an adventure park for hiking and fishing to take mind off cricket, relax and come back rejuvenated.
After Anil Kumble stepped down as Test captain, Dhoni became the Test captain as well, and during his tenure India topped the ICC Test rankings for the 1st time. Dhoni led the team to 27 Test wins including 6 wins abroad. However there were as many as 15 losses abroad (out of 18 overall) for which his test captaincy was criticised.
As a test batsman he had 6 centuries and his defining innings as a batsman was a counter attacking 224 versus Australia at Chennai, when his captaincy was on the line and the knock had an impact on how the series shaped out.
Dhoni transformed himself from a hard hitting batsman to a finisher as per the demand of the hour and need of the team. He has the most unbeaten innings and the highest average in successful chases. In number of unbeaten innings he is followed by Jonty Rhodes, Inzamam-ul-haq and Ricky Ponting, while in highest average in successful chases he is ahead of Virat Kohli, Michael Bevan, ABD and Joe Root.
Dhoni’s method as finisher is simple. He nudges around, runs hard and takes singles and twos to take the score as near to the target as possible. He then relies on a few lusty blows to score the winning runs. The danger is that the asking rate may go out of bounds. Of late, this is becoming more and more difficult and possibly we may see Dhoni in a new role in the remaining part of his ODI and T20 career.
This is the best thing which has happened to Indian cricket in recent times. Many thought the transition would be difficult but Kohli credits Dhoni for making it smooth, going so far to say that he is lucky to have Dhoni with him in his initial years as captain and that the players hardly felt there was a change in captaincy. Virat also says that he goes by his instincts but whenever he asks Dhoni anything, then 8 or 9 times out of 10 it works.
As per VVS Laxman, the combination of Kohli’s aggression and Dhoni’s calmness will work wonders for the successful fortunes of the Indian team. VVS also credits Kohli with approaching Dhoni without any ego. This certainly is super and good for the team.
One hopes this duo will take us to World Cup glory in 2019.
Happy birthday Mahi
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films and music.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Pragativadi.com and Pragativadi.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.