It took just four years for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to transform from a boy from an obscure small town into an icon of Indian sports. The events that made up that tale turned into one of the greatest feel–good stories of recent times, and I felt it needed to be told.
Dhoni is arguably the most radical and influential Indian cricketer since the emergence of Kapil Dev in the late ’70s. The positive impact he has had on Indian cricket–and on aspiring youth–is the modern-day version of a fairy-tale come true.
Since he received no formal training during his formative years, Dhoni’s rough-and-ready ways were never ironed out of his system. And there lies his appeal, and that is what pulls in the crowds.
Here is a leader–India’s captain in one-day internationals (ODIs) and Twenty20 since 2007 and in a Test in 2008–who makes bold decisions and carries them forward.
The fact that the results have in the main turned out to be positive is no mere stroke of luck. Like Kapil Dev a quarter of a century earlier, Dhoni is instinctive, going by his gut feeling.
Over-strategising and forward planning are not for the likes of Kapil and MSD. They are cricketers who play it straight from the heart, not the head, and what counts most of all is that they always lead by example.
Kapil amply demonstrated this when he led India to theirepochal Prudential World Cup victory in England in 1983. Once he rescued the side with that memorable 175 not out against Zimbabwe, he demonstrated to his team that no challenge was too great for him. And defending 183 in the final at Lord’s against the might of the West Indies batting line-up was the icing on the cake.
Dhoni faced a similarly daunting task at the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007.
Like ‘Kapil’s Devils’ in 1983, India began as no-hopers. They had played just one T-20 game before the tournament and were therefore woefully lacking in experience.
For the captain himself it was an even tougher task. This was his first assignment at the helm and with a raw, largely untested side under his command, it was left to the young wicket-keeper/batsman to keep his cool and marshal his resources astutely.
Right from the first game, when India beat Pakistan in a bowlout after the scores were tied, to the final where the same two teams met and India squeaked through, Dhoni rarely made a wrong move.
His daring gamble, giving medium pacer Joginder Sharma the ball in the last over of the final with Misbah-ul-Haq on the rampage, could have proved fatal.But with the full support of his captain, Sharma delivered the deathblow and the crown was India’s. The case was similar, as we shall see, with Praveen Kumar in the CB tri-series finals against Australia.
Those victories captured the imagination of the cricket world and Dhoni found himself firmly ensconced as the darling of the nation. But to his eternal credit, he has managed to maintain his poise and dignity under the harsh glare of the spotlight. The small-town-lad-made-good always manages to keep his cool, whatever the circumstances.
Being loyal to his roots is one of his most endearing traits. Fame as yet has not gone to his head. With a solid middle-class family upbringing–much like Sachin Tendulkar’s–it is likely he will continue to remain grounded, no matter what the provocation or temptation. Unlike Tendulkar, though, Dhoni was no child prodigy, no overnight success. He made his international debut at the age of 23, mature by Indian cricket standards, and with five grinding years of domestic cricket behind him.
With the world title under his belt, Dhoni was able to make the bold decision in Australia in 2008 to shed the weight of his iconic seniors when it came to the ODI tri-series. Expectedly, he came under a barrage of criticism. But once again, he was proved right. Beating the mighty Aussies in their own backyard was something not even Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin or Sourav Ganguly had been able to achieve.
No wonder he was the prize catch when it came to the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction. And leading the Chennai Super Kings to the final of the inaugural event added another arrow to his quiver. Dhoni today is on top of the world.
This is his inspiring story.
Guide to Tournaments in India
Ranji Trophy: For state sides (four-day matches; final five days)
Ranji Trophy one-day tournament: For state sides
Duleep Trophy: For Zonal sides (North, South, East, West, Central; plus one foreign team. Four-day matches, final five days)
Deodhar Trophy: One-day tournament for same five zonal sides
Challenger Tournament: One-day tournament earlier consisting of India Seniors, India ‘A’ and India ‘B’. Now known as India Blue, India Green and India Red
Cooch-Behar Trophy: Three-day tournament for State Under-19 sides (final is of four days)
CK Nayudu Tournament: One-day Zonal tournament for Under-19 players