Champions Trophy 2013: We need Dhoni more than he needs us

Whether India wins the Champions Trophy or not, the last few weeks have proven this much: Mahendra Singh Dhoni must consider authoring a book on leadership or, at the least, be featured as a lengthy chapter in the next leadership tome to come out of India.

Far more experienced leaders, in sport, politics and industry, have faltered, balked and, often, resigned at the first hint of controversy and trouble. The Indian cricket captain, on the other hand, has appeared unfazed even as he found himself embroiled in the most high-involvement scandal to hit the sport – and the country – in recent memory. The jury is still out on whether the allegations against him are legitimate. But at this point, the bigger question is this: Does that really matter?

MS Dhoni tends to stay calm, no matter what is going on around him. PTI

MS Dhoni tends to stay calm, no matter what is going on around him. PTI

The cynical (and obvious) view is that the truth may never be known.

Whether by design or inadvertently, that unwritten management principle of ‘profit over all else’ is likely to give Dhoni immunity from fans and the administrators alike. His impassive, purposeful leadership style has rallied the team to restore faith and produce success. This has not only diffused the ugliness surrounding Indian cricket, it has also given the BCCI a temporary reprieve. While the latter is clearly not a positive outcome for those waiting to see the N Srinivasan-led Board and all other parties in the fixing saga get a comeuppance, it is an unavoidable consequence of Dhoni’s influence on Indian cricket, particularly in recent times.

All hail the Indian captain is the current refrain as scribes rush to pen their latest eulogy to Dhoni. At this stage, therefore, comparisons to Sourav Ganguly, the other influential Indian captain, are inevitable but while both have had similar successes in man-management, the differences are pointed as well. The current skipper seems to show no obvious regard for popular opinion and affinity for power – whatever be the behind-the-scenes story – while Ganguly was clearly affected by what was being said about him. His emotional investment in the game was obvious and made him a more vulnerable target when caught in the Greg Chappell imbroglio, among others. Dhoni, meanwhile, manifests nonchalance, an attribute that has been his best friend through his captaincy and particularly in the last couple of months.

Consider this: India entered the Champions Trophy surrounded by a troubled aura. There was less talk about the cricket, more chatter about the cricket board. Today, experts are wondering if any team is good enough to beat India on current form.

The turnaround has taken the world by surprise. India is playing as well as they ever have, with significant contributions from all departments. The captain’s form has stayed solid, as expected and as it did during the final stages of the Indian Premier League when the chatter had started gaining momentum. Even a Dhoni critic will have to call this inspirational.

It is said that a captain is only as good as his team. In this case, however, the team is this good largely because of the captain. A shaken, nervous leader would necessarily have a negative impact on the side’s performance, and clearly Dhoni has not been exhibiting any such anxiety.

Which is why I ask, how does anyone point a finger at this stoic-seeming, calm-inspiring man without arousing the anger of the sport’s largest consumer base – the Indian fans? At this point, a weakened Dhoni equals an even more weakened Team India. And no one is going to allow that.

So, again, the fact is: No one WANTS to know the truth.

This is a case study for any leader in trouble. And there is a book waiting to be written if Dhoni chooses to write it. I have two chapters already titled for him: ‘Become indispensable’ and ‘don’t make over-the-top media statements’. Because he would have practiced what he would be preaching.

The author writes on popular culture, cricket and whatever else takes her fancy. She tweets @abbykhaitan.