Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
The guy with long locks blasted his way into the Indian team – my feeling is that Srilanka are yet to recover from that brutal carnage. His heroics in the Pakistan series and our shortage of wicketkeeper batsmen after Nayan Mongia’s unwanted exit made sure that he would be in the team forever.
There was a time when he didn’t know any of the numbers less than 6. When the ball touched his bat, it almost always flew – into the crowd, to the pavilion and over. There was no beauty in what he played, the shots were ripped off all dignity but he would get his 6s. The crowd would scream his name like they screamed that of Tendulkar, sometimes even more vociferously. Versions of “Dhoni Dho dalo!” were very famous. He showed the aggression that the crowd so desperately wanted to see from an Indian batsman.
His craze for speed ensured that he was seen on popular bike, car and even petrol and engine oil ads! His consistent performances earned him more advertisements than Sachin had. The boy from Jharkhand had become a household name. The disaster of 2007 World Cup made sure that Dravid stepped down and MSD was named his successor. Stepping into the shoes of Ganguly and Dravid wasn’t easy – they were the two most successful Indian captains. But he did that with absolute ease. He led the Indian team to the inaugural T20I World Cup victory! A victory against Pakistan in the finals! That was all that was needed for India to accept him as a permanent captain. India were champions in at least one form of the game – I remember one of my friends telling me that this was enough for him.
One could argue that all victory was based on luck but a closer look would tell us that luck plays only a very small role. Some pundits put the T20I victory down to beginner’s luck. Dhoni just wasn’t bothered. He cut his long hair short. His name was linked with a few popular actresses and to quell the rumours, he married Sakshi in a clandestine ceremony. Even the media didn’t know if it – he knew how to keep his secrets! In modern day sport that cannot travel without glitz and glare, keeping things to themselves is one of the more essential features of a captain. In a burst of education, he learned the numbers below 6 and learnt how to run them well. Dhoni is perhaps the best runner between wickets in India today.
When he took over as captain of the test team from Kumble, the team was in a sort of turmoil. They didn’t like the coach, they didn’t want to play with each other and they fought ugly. Leadership comes with ease for some and Dhoni is one of those rare few. He did his basics right – maintained good relations with seniors and juniors and most of all with his contemporaries – who were in contention for the job he had at hand. He maintained good relations with the media never hurling words at them like Ganguly or never letting them take things for granted like Dravid. He was open and honest. He called a spade a spade, didn’t hide facts and admitted very frankly some of his mistakes while carefully guarding his teammates even when they were out of form.
His captaincy cannot be classified as charismatic or authoritative, nor is it entirely free rein. It is a leadership which is based on the most valued quality of all – TRUST. He is the kind of captain that India has wanted for years. He built trust within the team and with the new coach – this led to good performances on the field. Thereby he gained the trust of a billion fans. From then on there has only been rise and rise for MSD. His leadership is a mixture of the best of all captains so far – a style that compromises of being firm and polite at the same time, showing aggression in cricket, maintaining cool on and off the field, infusing team spirit and a stoic determination to do the best for his team mates. He took responsibility head on and never shied away from taking on the pressure. He took his business seriously and showed the desire to remain captain. He faced failures like a brave warrior should. Add to all this his own sense of calmness, good humour and the signature MSD smile! He has made himself one of the most formidable leaders of our time!
He was paid the highest buck for Chennai Super Kings in IPL 1 and was named captain of Namma Chennai. He picked his team and coach well. CSK have been one of the consistent performers in IPL – coming to the finals in IPL 1, semi-finals in IPL 2 (played in South Africa) and winning the tournament in IPL 3. Not satisfied with that, he led CSK to victory in the Champions League T20 the same year doing the double.
He took the team to the highest spot in Test Rankings – something that has never happened before – even in the Tests only era that boasts of the best Test players. He conquered the ODI peak by winning the World Cup in 2011. Etiquette demanded that he lift the Cup. Lift he did, but the man didn’t hold the cup for more than a few seconds. He passed it on to his teammates and relished in their holding it. He didn’t run riot like others did, he was quiet personified even after winning the World Cup! These are qualities that cannot be taught at any premier institute – has to come from within! He let everyone share in the joy and carefully tread on the side-lines.
He has turned out to be a trailblazer of sorts – someone who wants to perfect himself at every opportunity. Victory or loss never defined a leader for me. No one calls Cronje or Smith a bad leader. To me, it is the ability to turn individuals into a formidable side and the ability to make them want to perform that matters. I opine that MSD is the best captain of today’s era because he is the only one who has shown this attitude. I look forward to seeing more from him – way to go!