MS Dhoni: A calming influence in Indian cricket

M. S. Dhoni: leading India from the front

M. S. Dhoni: leading India from the front

It was just a week ago, that the Men in Blue were basking in the glory of their lionhearted performance in the Champions Trophy. The world was talking about how this new bunch of Indian cricketers look the part. The Indian fans were overwhelmed with the impeccable display of talent and confidence shown by these young boys.

The thing about audiences/viewers/supporters (Indians, especially) is that they will make you an overnight superstar if/when you succeed. But the clichéd one-liner, ‘Every coin has two sides‘, holds true in this case. If you miss your mark, you are sure to turn into an undesirable product. It isn’t practically possible to change the psychology of audiences overnight.

What happened when India lost to England, Australia, and Pakistan? In spite of winning the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011, the period that followed was a tough one for the team. The people of India found it absolutely necessary to look around for a scapegoat – when they couldn’t find one, they reckoned that the leadership wasn’t right. The media gleefully showed their willingness to create headlines out of the team’s poor form (and blame it all on M. S. Dhoni).

Frequent reports about rumours of clashes between the senior players started coming out of nowhere. The worst part about these rumours was that there was no trustworthy source for the common man to confirm such reports. Hence, it was decided. The newspapers said it, the channels took it upon themselves to turn ‘selectors’ and the average Indian fan lost faith in Dhoni’s ability to lead the side. Thankfully, the real selectors kept their sanity and carried on with Dhoni as the skipper. Their perseverance eventually paid off, with India pulling off a 4-0 victory over the Aussies at home and then reinstating their presence in world cricket and their dominance in the 50-overs format in June.

Hypocrites compare Dhoni to the likes of Sourav Ganguly and Ricky Ponting, while wasting no time in writing him off after just one or two poor performances. It might seem like I’m making an obvious statement here, but one’s got to understand that the entire blame of a loss cannot be put on the leader, just as the entire credit of a victory cannot be given to him. It goes without saying that when you call it a ‘team game’, you must look at the playing XI, the skipper and the coach(es) as a single entity.

As far as the captaincy is concerned, there is nobody in the Indian outfit right now, who can take up the mantle of handling the immense pressure of leading the Indian side (to victory – pun intended). That air of calmness, that ability to ‘lead from the front’, that uncanny habit of taking the right decisions at the right time, that capability of providing the best possible outputs with the available resources – it’s these things that define the man that Dhoni is.

Virat Kohli still has some way to go before replacing M. S. Dhoni as skipper

Virat Kohli still has some way to go before replacing M. S. Dhoni as skipper

Yes, Virat Kohli is being groomed to be the heir to the throne that rightly belongs to Dhoni at the moment. Yes, the IPL is a splendid platform for youngsters to stand up and take the opportunity to lead the best cricketers in the world. But then, why is there a need for a new captain, when you have someone like MSD leading his troops to unprecedented heights in world cricket?

The ongoing tri-series between India, Sri Lanka and West Indies took a shocking turn when the Men in Blue lost to the hosts by a narrow margin. Dhoni was in the dressing room for a major part of that match, due to a hamstring injury. Vice-captain Virat Kohli did quite well to quickly step up to the task.

But then look at what happened today. Nobody is judging Virat’s leadership abilities here, but with Dhoni sitting out, the Indians were looking out of sorts when Upul Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardene started piling up a heap of runs. On the rare occasion when the bowlers could have got these two out, the fielders let them down. 328. The body language of the team said it all.

Did they bowl badly today? Yes, the stats would suggest so. But more than anything, it was the team’s inability to perform as a unit that let them down in the field. Was Dhoni sorely missed? Absolutely. No scope for doubt there.

Dhoni’s mere presence on the field (and in the batting order) reminds me of the way the Indian team and fans alike looked at Sachin Tendulkar (in his prime). The aforementioned statement certainly seems like a simile, but it isn’t intended to be a direct comparison in any way whatsoever. But one just cannot deny the respect and the position that ‘Captain Cool’ commands in the team. Indian players look up to Dhoni for directions. In fact, ‘senior’ bowlers in the current squad, like Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin, often need to be spoon-fed by their captain. That extra push that’s needed – captain Dhoni provides it.

Presence of mind, tremendous power, composure, commendable temperament, spirit, unlimited ability to withstand extreme pressure – you name it, the man has it. A mature, responsible cricketer who can bat anywhere in the order. An outstanding, selfless, successful leader. When he’s out there, things seem under control.

India needs him. And no matter how much you criticize him, admit it, you want him at the helm of Indian cricket.

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