“Agar Kaptaan ho, toh Dhoni jaisa ho.”
This is what people often say in India when asked to describe the enigma of a leader called Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Dhoni has been someone, who has completely changed the dynamics of Indian cricket, with his shrewd, yet unorthodox captaincy style. In order to describe a captain, intellectuals often use management jargons, such as an Autocratic leader, Democratic Leader or a Paternalistic Leader.
To sum up Dhoni, it’s fair to say that the now former Indian captain doesn’t belong to any of the mentioned categories. Rather the lad from Jharkhand is so unique that one style of leadership alone is not sufficient enough to portray his captaincy.
Maybe, Dhoni is someone, who has a little bit of everything and the ability to execute the best skills from an ocean of choices is what makes him such a successful skipper.
When he took over in 2007, Indian cricket was headed towards a transition. India had just lost a close fought ODI series to England (4-3) in England and Rahul Dravid felt that it was time for someone else to take over the reins of the side. Chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar then took a bold, and one must mention, a controversial step to appoint Dhoni as India’s man in charge for the shorter forms of the game.
Several sections of the Indian cricketing fraternity reacted wildly, as India had rarely appointed an individual as the captain, who himself was in the early phase of his career. Dhoni being the champion he is, responded in style as he led India to glory in the very first edition of the World T20. With that young but ever vibrant team, hungry for success, Dhoni brought about an absolute change in India’s approach.
India no longer was the team that would begin on the defensive, but rather, a team full of individuals who commenced off with aggression. Dhoni’s first ODI series win came against Pakistan, as India thrashed their south Asian neighbours 3-2 in bowl-out with authority. But as many say, a turning point in his ever magnanimous captaincy career was achieved when India went on to thrash Australia in the CB series. More importantly, India defeated Ricky Ponting’s Australia, a skipper who didn’t know what defeat truly meant till that moment.
He demanded the presence of youth and raw energy in the side to ensure that his team lived up to the modern demands of the game. The selectors responded in the affirmative, and from there on, India’s ascend to the throne of limited overs cricket began.
With Dhoni at the centre of affairs, India won 110 of the 199 games he led in. He remains second only to Australia’s Ricky Ponting, in terms of matches won. But the most enticing aspect about Dhoni the leader stood in the fact about his ability to identify and groom young talent.
Modern day stars such as Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, R. Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, M. Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane to name a few, all were groomed and flourished under Dhoni’s watchful eye. Among them, the decision to probably persist with Rohit Sharma despite the latter’s dismal numbers in 2012, paid off overwhelming returns. In mid-2012, India played a 5 match ODI series in Sri Lanka, which they comfortably won 4-1. However, Sharma was made into a laughing stock on the internet, as he aggregated a paltry 12 runs in 5 outings.
Dhoni, however, had full faith in him, and despite such a situation, persisted with Sharma. His move to eventually use Rohit as an opener changed the outlook of the modern Indian team, as the Mumbai batsman has transformed into a limited overs monster.
The 2013 ICC Champions Trophy triumph, where India went as the number 1 ranked side, was another high, as this was a team which Dhoni had built on his own, right from the very basics.
Giving Ishant Sharma, who seemed to be a wild horse that day, an over ahead of the inform bowlers did the trick as the pacer responded in style by turning the tide in the game. The appropriate use of tactical moves from Dhoni as such is what makes him such a phenomenal leader. His unorthodox, yet profusely street smart and unconventional measures are examples for all budding leaders in any field of life.
Another significant event for Dhoni as a captain was the 2015 World Cup. Until that moment, India had been in Australia for almost 3 months and didn’t even a single international game. The Test series didn’t go their way and they were beaten black and blue in the tri-series. Any other captain would have given up right there and then. But that was something which defined the legend of Dhoni. Rather than submitting to the atrocities, Dhoni roared back ferociously as he led India terrifically till the Semi final against Australia.
Till the semi-final, India remained unbeaten and it seemed that something absolute extraordinary occurred. Very few could believe that this team which was rampaging any resistance was that very team which hadn’t won a single game in 3 months on Australian shores. India might not have won that World Cup, but the message they sent with such a power packed performance, wasn’t short of a motivation campaign. During that phase, in so many ways, did Dhoni resemble Brad Pitt’s character in Fury, as the latter too was displayed as a leader battling atrocities in an inspiring way.
Dhoni’s connection with Australian shores didn’t end there, as he became the first ever captain in the game’s history to whitewash Australia in Australia. India did so in the 3 match T20I series and simply bossed the Kangaroos. Dhoni soon went on to lift his second Asia Cup title in style as India once again remained unbeaten.
To wrap up, Dhoni’s larger than life limited overs captaincy portfolio comprises of, an ICC World Cup, a World T20, an ICC Champions Trophy, two Asia Cup titles, a tri-series victory in Australia, winning an ODI series in New Zealand, whitewashing England twice. The fact that he remains the only captain in the game’s history to have all ICC Trophies in his cabinet, undoubtedly, makes him the most versatile leader.
Like any positive aspect, Dhoni’s time as the leader too had to come to an end. We may no longer see captain Dhoni marshalling his troops in trademark style, but we can definitely witness the destructive Dhoni, demolishing opposition bowlers.
As they say, “Agar Kaptaan ho, toh Dhoni jaisa ho.”