Dhoni’s greatest, but probably unnoticed, contribution to cricket has been to elevate the status of cricket from a religion to a sport.
by Kartikeya Tanna
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on 9 February, 2012, when MS Dhoni was still in-charge of the Indian team in all forms of the game. Dhoni announced his international retirement Saturday, 15 August, bringing the curtains down on a career in which he led India to victory in the 2007 ICC World T20, 2011 ICC World Cup and 2013 ICC Champions Trophy.
Given our propensity to elevate our cricketing heroes to demi-God status when winning and to deprecate them to the lowest levels when losing, this article may perhaps be glaringly ill-timed.
However, this propensity signifies a larger problem: our obsession with cricket. And it is only befitting that someone like Dhoni holds the reins of Team India, an anointment that bore a strong recommendation by the prophetic Tendulkar.
It is the nishkama in MSD's karma that has sought to restore a semblance of balance in Indian cricket. And while Indian victories made us begin to appreciate it, a spate of defeats has brought us back to the aggression experienced during India's worst phases in cricket.
There is a very direct and straightforward 'matter-of-fact' stance in MSD’s captaincy and cricket. In the midst of several self-indulgent, egotistic battles ex-captains and ex-seniors have waged to cling to their spots in Team India in the past few decades, Dhoni’s honesty about himself and his team’s performance is refreshing and, more crucially, enlightening.
To borrow Peter Roebuck’s elegant phrases, "The Ranchi boy who does not quit or cry” has the strength to look at the sport in its eye. Rather than gaining unwarranted hollow victories by sledging or shouting at his teammates, MSD has shown the sheer strength to gather himself and his team after a loss, find a few minutes to smile and persistently seek to improve.
Captaincy has been given to him for his worth. But, he has not allowed captaincy to ever get the better of him. His cricket and his leadership are beyond dressing-room politics and the glamour of power that an arrogant BCCI exhibits today. The reason several of us find it odd and unreal is because it does not fit our inculcated way of life – of aggressively clinging to positions of power or of asserting our superiority with day-to-day politics or exhibiting aggression or displeasure when others in the team aren't doing well. That's why we are desperate to see something suspicious or sophistic in his recent statements.
Dhoni is a true blue Indian dream not simply because his is a story of a small-town boy making it big. The Indianness in him is reflective of the underlying philosophy of the Bhagvad Gita – that of desireless action. This does not mean Dhoni doesn't care about victories. Nor does the Bhagvad Gita say that. An unwavering eye has to be on the identified goal of one's action, but, at the same time, there musn't be an incessant hankering after the fruits of that action. The aim is to be equally detached from the excess celebrations that follow victories or the excess indignation that follows losses.
Yoga-sthaha kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva
samatvam yoga uchyate
Perform your duty equiposed, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga. (Verse 48, Chapter II)
MSD is on his way to achieving that state of self-realisation. His detachment from desires, goals, meaningless statistics, positions of power or a legacy makes his mental state while hitting the six to seal the WC win as assured as when Umesh Yadav’s wicket sealed a 4-0 win for Australia. That’s what makes him quintessentially Indian – an anachronism in the rat race and crab outlook in post-colonial India.
And as recent media reports indicate, an Indian not yet appreciable in the rapidly growing India that has either ignored the Gita on the narrow pretense of being secular or grossly misunderstood it as permitting a callous attitude towards one’s work.
Team India’s recent performances in England and Australia have as much to do with the famed batting line-up’s failure, which includes him too, as with his leadership. Dhoni, more than anyone else, knows this. And when it is often said how MSD has simply inherited a team Ganguly so skillfully built, the question isn’t asked why that same inherited team, supposedly at its peak, failed to do well in the two tours. Is it because Dhoni didn’t give them enough motivation? Isn’t playing for Team India enough motivation already? And if it’s about showing the way with hard work and determination, Dhoni can’t be found wanting.
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A major reason why cricket flourished, particularly in post-1991 India, is due to the advent of cable television and our desperateness to find a sport hero who would be the world’s envy, India’s pride. Sachin Tendulkar is, undoubtedly, the best batsman in modern-day cricket, but the God-status accorded to him was due to the fact that he shone by a huge distance with his crafty skills than his Indian contemporaries at that time.
Cricket became an arena, one of the very few, where Indians could witness their heroes defeat another country in an international contest on a fairly regular basis, particularly when it was Pakistan. This provided an unparalleled joy and satisfaction to a country long awaiting a true international pride. Cricket, hence, became a religion and Sachin it’s God. And ironically, each victory, though resulting in aggressive belligerent celebrations, brought some kind of inner peace to Indians, something akin to religion. Conversely, each loss deprived us of that inner peace we so easily started expecting from Indian cricket.
Dhoni's greatest, but probably unnoticed, contribution to cricket has been to elevate the status of cricket from a religion to a sport – propelling us to be passionate about the sport rather than be aggressive with victories and losses. And, as he incessantly points out in press interviews, the true enjoyment of cricket is in the process of harnessing those skills in the lead up to results.
Sadly, we are willing to accept that only as long as he gives us victories.
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