September 24th, 2007, Johannesburg
When Rahul Dravid announced his decision to step down as captain, BCCI decided to use the inaugural T20 World Cup as an opportunity to give youngsters a chance to play for the nation and nominated a young Mahendra Singh Dhoni to lead them. Dhoni’s first outing was against the arch rivals Pakistan. The game had gone down to the wire and witnessed the first ever bowl out in the T20 World Cup.
Dhoni walked into the field with a wide grin on his face and it was clear that he wasn’t one to fall prey to pressure easily. His composure was infectious as the new Indian lot looked a relaxed bunch when they came out for the ball out and hit the bulls eye thrice while their opponents failed to do so even once. MSD had registered his first win and there were many more to come.
Two weeks later, the two teams met again, this time in the final. India had a dream run in the tournament, overpowering the likes of South Africa, England and Australia. The final was a nail-biter of a match and had gone down to the wire again. Pakistan needed 12 runs off the last over with only one wicket in hand. The in-form Misbah Ul Haq was on strike and Dhoni had to make a vital decision on who would bowl the last over.
At one end, there was the little known Joginder Sharma and at the other was Harbhajan , the most experienced bowler in the team. Joginder (Jogi) had done reasonably well in the match with his out swingers while Harbhajan, who had a great tournament until then, was struggling to get this Yorkers in and was slog swept and pulled by Misbah for 3 sixes in his previous over. But just two nights back he had successfully uprooted the stumps of Michael Clark in the death overs to turn the game in India’s favor.
Most would have thought that Dhoni would give him another go and hope that he replicates the success again. It was then that Dhoni had made the first mistake of his life; he chose the new comer over the veteran!
There was a plan – Jogi would bowl his out swingers wide outside off stump to a packed offside field. Misbah’s options were limited; with the number 11 at the other end, he couldn’t afford to look for singles and had to go for the full Monty and back himself to clear the offside field.
In the second ball of the over, he did exactly that, with a thundering six! The game was even-stevens now. Pakistan was one hit away and India one wicket away, from creating history. Jogi stuck to the plan and it paid off. Misbah tried to shuffled across the off stump and scoop the bowl over fine leg, but all he managed to do was provide Sreesanth with a simple catch that sealed the deal for India.
Dhoni and his boys had created history and they had done it in style. India had found a new leader, one who showed courage to believe in current form over experience. This was the beginning of a new chapter for Indian cricket.
April 2, 2011, Mumbai
Team India had found themselves in the World Cup finals again, but this time in the 50 over format. A lot had changed since their win in Johannesburg. Under the leadership of Dhoni, India had evolved into an incredible unit; they were the clear favorites for the tournament.
Sri Lanka posted an imposing total of 274 runs on board and Malinga made early inroads into the Indian top order, dismissing both Sehwag and Sachin early on. Kohli and Gambhir had somewhat steadied the ship with an 83 run stand, but when Dilshan caught Kohli off his own bowling, India were reeling with 160 runs more to get at almost 6 runs per over.
Everyone anticipated the in-form batsman Yuvraj Singh to come in next. Yuvi had a wonderful run in the tournament and his match winning half century against Australia during a difficult chase in the quarterfinal meant that he had the talent and the temperament for the chase. This is when Dhoni made the second mistake of his life; he promoted himself up the order and walked in at No: 5.
Dhoni had a very ordinary tournament as a batsman until then, but he felt he was better equipped to negate the spin wizard Muralitharan. Coming from a captain who showed that he gave more preference to current form than experience in the last World Cup, this decision was very surprising.
But what transpired in the next hour and a half meant that this was yet another master stroke from Dhoni as he went on to complete a historic chase for India, scoring an unbeaten 91 and winning the trophy of glory for India after 28 years. Dhoni had just shown us that he was someone who considered adaptability of a player to the conditions than just his current form alone.
June 23, 2013, Edgbaston
It was the final of the last edition of the ICC Champions Trophy. Fittingly, the World Champions – Team India – were taking on the home side England.
India had recovered from an early stutter to put up a fighting total of 129 in 20 overs in a rain affected final which was reduced to 20 overs per side.
After a good opening spell against the English top order, Team India looked very much in the game. A resilient Bopara and Morgan then stitched together a useful partnership and threatened to take the game away from India. With the game again going to the final overs, Dhoni again had to make a tough choice of who would bowl the 18th over of the match.
With only 28 runs to defend and the power play overs up next, India needed to break this partnership very badly. Both Umesh and Bhuvaneshwar had done well in their spells and looked like the obvious choices. This is when Dhoni made the third mistake of his life; he decided to go with an erratic Ishant Sharma.
By now the whole world was accustomed to Dhoni’s bizarre decisions during crucial situations in the match. But more often than not, he had come out in flying colors. However, this decision seemed like clear suicide.
Ishant steamed in and was hit by Morgan for a boundary. It looked like this over would seal the match and ironically enough it did. But not exactly as many would have thought, as in the latter part of the over Ishant came back strongly and dismissed both Morgan and Bopara to give India the advantage, and the rest is history.
Dhoni had once again baffled everyone. Ishant was wayward and was struggling to adapt to the pitch unlike his peers, but Dhoni showed faith in his experienced campaigner. Thus, Dhoni had shown us that an ideal captain should always look to play the situation.
On another day, Misbah would have hit Jogi over his head for another six and sealed the deal for Pakistan, Muralitharan would have foxed Dhoni with a wrong one around the wicket to disturb the timber as he had done so in the past and Ishant would have been smashed by Morgan and Bopara all over the park. All these moves would have looked like big mistakes that cost India its most prestigious trophies in the last 6 years.
Some may call it the “Midas touch”, while others might call it strategic brilliance. But the fact remains that Dhoni is the most successful Indian captain today, thanks to arguably the three mistakes of his life that turned out to be absolutely right!