The lightness of being MS Dhoni

Posted by the lazy knight on 6:02 AM in , ,

(Image courtesy - Hindu Business Line)

In a nation given to hyperbole, loud celebrations, gaudy displays of wealth and a heightened sensitivity to taking offence, it is often difficult to find public personalities with a calm and dispassionate demeanour about them. MS Dhoni’s is a uniquely ‘un-Indian’ personality in that regard. In the nine years that he played Test cricket (and even beyond that in the other formats of the game), rarely has he looked temperamental, angry, pumped up or excitable. Not for him the fist pumps or big jumps after reaching a batting landmark, nor the high pitched exultation after a catch or a stumping or even the shrill shriek of joy after winning a game.

With Dhoni comes a remarkable sense of detachment. His joys are saved for elsewhere, places we will never know. Places where this intensely private man has not allowed the media circus that constantly follows him entry. You can bet that Dhoni loves the game but unlike the millions who follow it in India, for him the action stops inside the field. You almost get the sense that cricket is like a daily routine for him, akin to going to office. We all wake up in the morning, put on our best clothes, go to work and try to do the best job at it. All our lives we chase our dream jobs. We put endless hours to acquire skills that would lead us there. We study, reach colleges, pass interviews, test the limits of our ability to handle stress. Once in our jobs, we constantly tinker, improvise and add new skills. Offices though are not the places we live in. Our smiles, our laughter, our joys and tears are reserved for another environment – home. You would find many a cricketer for whom the stadium was his home and it is certainly true that the game deserves men of different kind. Dhoni though belongs exclusively to the former category.

You would be hard pressed to take a look at Dhoni’s face and judge the situation of the match. Captains are animated – they furrow brows, wave arms frantically, brood during a game, show expressions of frustration or delight, constantly speak to their bowlers. Yet, Dhoni was rarely into this gig. Whether his bowlers were spewing filth and getting spanked all around the park or whether Ashwin was running through a side on a slow pitch in India, his face had the same calm and stable expression. Wicketkeepers are even a noisier lot – their shouts and appeals are dominating noises of the stump microphones. And yet, rare would be that Dhoni appeal that would be none genuine. Rarer still would be the flourish or celebration after a catch. It is hard to believe that Dhoni carried out two of the chattiest and frenetic roles in the game of cricket for a number of years while simultaneously being the quietest person on the field.

Only two instances come to mind when Dhoni brought emotion into the game and neither was an express cricketing act. The first was when he paraded the entire team in front of the media before the 2009 T20 World Cup after reports had surfaced that Sehwag was faking an injury due to rifts between him and Dhoni. The second was earlier in 2014 on the England tour when he publically called out James Anderson to be punished after the altercation between him and Ravi Jadeja. Both in a way presented a crossing of line for man who had viewed every happening on the cricket field as transient. Both tested his credibility – the first as captain and the second as an eyewitness. And in both, Dhoni was prepared to stake his reputation, do the unexpected and get his point across.

It would be wrong to bucket Dhoni as a successful home and a losing overseas captain. Leadership is a by-product of those of being led but more importantly it is also an outcome of the time in which it is exercised. Dhoni’s legacy will not so much be the numbers but the man management skills he presented. The majority of his captaincy was spent leading men who were either contemporaries or mentees of Sourav Ganguly. Both Dravid and Kumble, who preceded him, commanded the respect of that group. Dhoni had bloomed in the Chappell years – a period Indian cricket likes not to remember. For him to have led the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Yuvraj and Zaheer without any drama and take them to the number one spot in the Test rankings speaks to an amazing ability to manage upwards, show individuals respect while still maintaining the collective interest of the team above all. Of all the leadership challenges, change management can often be the toughest and Dhoni was right in the center when the Indian team undertook that journey as the greats retired and new men came to replace them. Sometimes, we often view the number of overseas defeats in the last three years and perhaps overlook the fact that it could have been much worse. No doubt India throws up a lot of cricketing talent but it takes a plucky captain to persist with talent when others are calling for heads. Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, Ishant and Rohit Sharma (if he does manage to salvage his Test career) would perhaps have had stormier careers if not for Dhoni’s faith in their ability.

Of course, Dhoni was not the perfect captain. Away from home, his lost confidence in his bowlers too soon. Too often, with the opposition in trouble, he would back away quickly, put fielders out and wait for the innings to fold. The safety first attitude ironically only brought India risk and the number of test matches lost after letting the opposition off the hook are many. At one level, watching the bowlers go at four an over, you would sympathize with Dhoni. However, at another level, you wanted him to go for the kill, to literally hold his bowlers by the collar and holler at them a bit, to have the field up and that extra slip in place and not the let the last 5 wickets put up 300.

True to his nature, Dhoni leaves without fanfare. He has seen through the storm, got a new team in place and brought it to a position, where, if the bowlers can keep their brains for a day, overseas tests can be won. His successor is an anti-thesis of him – aggressive, brash, charged up and not at all shy of letting the opposition know that he wants to win. Virat Kohli can afford that luxury. This is a young team waiting to be led and he has a clean slate to define his legacy. When the times were messier though, when the eras overlapped, when the new and young mixed and when India needed a stable hand to avoid combustion, we had Dhoni’s calmness to assure us. Indian cricket was lucky to have him at the helm. There might well be a time when we just start missing him.



Nicely written. A quiet goodbye to Dhoni from an equally quiet fan. Well-positioned.

I liked the tone of objectivity and a quiet dis-passion full of passion in this post. Quite befitting for someone who sees Dhoni the way he does. I liked the facts, the stories and the observations. Also, the subdued adoration. You sure will miss him on the Test field as would I. Dhoni is probably THE MOST SUCCESSFUL CAPTAIN to have ever played for India (I am thinking about his three major victories, one after another - World Cup, T20 and IPL). Things might be downwards for him now, but he will always be remembered as the calm, composed and persistent captain that he truly was.

Thanks for presenting this fitting test cricket farewell to him. If ever he reads this, he will happy that there are at least some people out there who see him for what he truly is. Kudos.

Thanks for the detailed read and the feedback. Tried to keep it a detached and objective post highlighting the remarkable qualities that made him a good captain. He will indeed go down as one of the very best!

Very well written..
I like when you say 'safety first attitude'....I've never been a Dhoni fan, the child in me still loves the Dada's, Sehwag's, Yuvi's of the world..I felt that somehow he could have handled the Greg Chappel fiasco better, and he had his own agenda to prove at that pt.... but what Dada did for veeru,bhajji, sehwag, Gauti, Zak...he did for raina, rohit, jaddu, and Ashwin...everyone has their favorites....Probably i thing that he could have done better was...go for the kill attitiude....something we clearly saw Kohli doing at the oval....Wishind Dhoni all the very best in future...and his calm life...

Copyright © 2009 twenty2yards All rights reserved. Theme by Laptop Geek. | Bloggerized by FalconHive.