This almost doesn’t feel like the Indian team. There has been no talk of politics – in fact the talk has been nothing but positive. The average age of the team is comfortably less than thirty (in the last game it was 25.81 and Dhoni is the only above-30 player in the team) – a sharp drop from the 2011 World Cup. They can field like the best in the world – they need to only ‘hide’ Ashwin in the field.
But even if it doesn’t feel like an Indian team, it does feel like Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team. Some might argue that it is never an individual’s team, they might say that it’s all about working together and making things click as a unit but look at the contribution of the Indian skipper and you can’t help but feel that if there is an owner of this house, it’s him.
Dhoni has often publicly backed Rohit Sharma’s talent – he is clearly a believer. Despite his inconsistency, the Indian skipper believes that the Mumbai batsman can make a mark in international cricket and continues to push him into the squad whenever he can.
Virat Kohli is another player who was given support when everyone thought he was down and out – remember the Perth Test in Australia. Before the third Test of the series, Kohli had scores of 11, 0, 23 and 9 in the first two Tests, almost everyone felt he needed to make way for Rohit. But Dhoni backed him and now he is getting his reward.
Suresh Raina has blossomed as a T20 and ODI cricketer under Dhoni. He has a role to play in the shorter formats – a very specific role – and he does that well. His fielding has been superb and even though both of them came into the team around the same time, Dhoni’s maturity has led to becoming not just a friend, but mentor to Raina.
Ravindra Jadeja is someone whose bond with Dhoni has only grown stronger over the last couple of years. He was always a cricketer with talent but that alone never clinches things at the top level. Dhoni has worked on Jadeja’s approach to the game during their time at the Chennai Super Kings and the results of that are now showing.
R Ashwin made his way into the team through his performances for the Chennai Super Kings, where his captain is once again Dhoni. There are few things about Ashwin’s bowling that are a mystery to the skipper and that is why he gets his backing even when he is in a trough.
Ishant Sharma, despite his lack of wickets, has ability that Dhoni recognises just as he continues to hold Irfan Pathan in low esteem. And that recognition can make a big difference to the selectors. You’d rather give the captain a bowler he believes in than one who the captain believes is incapable of doing the job.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is new to the team but Dhoni has shown enough confidence in his brand of swing bowling to give him the new ball ahead of more experienced bowlers. He doesn’t try too many things and mostly that’s the kind of bowler that Dhoni seems to like.
Umesh Yadav has also only played under Dhoni in international cricket. He is quick and is often used by Dhoni in short bursts. He can be wayward but once again Dhoni realises that he has that little extra something to make the difference.
Rohit, Kohli, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar, Umesh – that’s the core of the Indian team today and perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to say that they are Dhoni’s boys. Sourav Ganguly had a happy knack of backing the right players (Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and more) to come good. Now, Dhoni seems to be developing a similar knack.
A captain’s belief – no matter how noble it is — matters little if he cannot get the rest of the team onto the same page – he’ll spend too much time pulling dead weight… time that could have been utilised planning an opponent’s downfall.
However, Dhoni’s greatest asset has been his ability to make each team member feel as if the team belongs not to Dhoni but to them. They all take ownership of it and that’s something. The team isn’t being pulled in different directions – they pull together, towards victory; towards a greater cause.
Dhoni doesn’t kill their individuality. In fact, with every move, he seems to say that ‘This is not MY team, it is OUR team,’ and that’s making the big difference.