Every leader is remembered in history for one decision of courage and wisdom that changes the course of history. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's greatness lies in the fact that with his guts, instincts and courage, he wrote, rewrote and even dictated the flow of history almost at will. On many occasions, it seemed, he was a master, conducting a cricket match with his bat and gloves as the baton.
As we look back at the life and times of Dhoni, several images run through the mind like a delightful montage. Each image is a legend of leadership.
It is 2 April, 2011. A country of 125 crore is waiting for its first World Cup since 1983. India have just lost Virat Kohli after a shaky start. As the nervous Indian crowd prays, Dhoni strides in. Shoulders squared, chest thrust forward, the bat held in his hand like a mace, to bear, as Cricinfo pointed out that day, "the extra lashings of responsibility on his shoulders".
He bats like a dervish dancing to his own tune in the middle of a battle, barely noticing the opponents, or the applause that greets his half-century. Then, at the end, when he seals it with a six that soars high into the Mumbai sky, the celebration comes not from the batsman, but at the other end where Yuvraj Singh performs an impromptu jig, giving vent to a nation's joy and gratitude for having such a courageous man in the right place at the right time to steer cricket's destiny.
That night Dhoni proved many theories about leadership, like it being forged in the middle of tough battles, and like crisis revealing the great and destroying the average. That night he lived the old adage of 'cometh the hour, cometh the man' and made it his own forever.
The mind then goes back to 24 September, 2007 – the night when Dhoni began his quest for endless victories with his intuitive decisions. When standing at the verge of a defeat that the Indians would never have forgotten or forgiven, he handed the ball over to a complete newcomer, Joginder Sharma, not afraid to risk his own future, not scared of the hounds that waited at home ready to pounce on every mistake. And once again it turned the destiny of the match, recorded for posterity in Ravi Shastri's excited voice telling the world, ''In the air and Sreesanth takes it. India win.'' And then, the unflappable captain, watched with a mix of trademark sangfroid and a tinge of amusement as Indians danced on the roads to welcome the winners of the World T20 during the open-top bus parade to the Wankhede.
Oh, there are so many lessons in leadership from Dhoni that it is difficult to even keep count. So let us rewind to the one that had India celebrating just a few months ago.
It is 25 March, 2016. India are being mocked and ridiculed by Mushfiqur Rahim with cheeky shots and raucous celebrations in the World T20. But as is always the case with Dhoni, luck intervenes. Rahim commits harakiri and Bangladesh are left with two to score of the last ball of the match. Enter Dhoni and his now predictable unpredictability.
Just as Hardik Pandya runs in, Dhoni removes his gloves. Then, collecting a shoulder high ball, sprints towards the wickets and throws them down. A few seconds later – which look like eons – the third umpire confirms that Dhoni beat both the batsman and Bangladesh by just a few inches, perhaps centimetres.
This then was quintessential Dhoni. A rare mix of calmness, courage, self-belief and a gambler's instinct – factors that made him win almost every trophy, every tournament in cricket history. Napoleon Bonaparte once said he liked brave generals, but he preferred the ones who were lucky. Had one of India's greatest generals on the cricket field been born in that era, Napoleon would have perhaps been forced to ask, can the leader gamble like Dhoni?
Dhoni's decision to quit captaincy is, unfortunately, not just the end of an era. It is the end of a style of leadership that we may perhaps never see again. He was a fearless warrior who led from the front, took risks, believed in his own ability and destiny. Dhoni, if you see his record on the field, his achievements and the Buddha-like calmness in the midst of victories, losses, setbacks, triumphs, his penchant for beating to his own rhythm in a battle, was perhaps the perfect embodiment of the philosophy many Indians want to live by: perform your karma without worrying about the results.
And that leadership is not forged by destiny. Destiny is what Dhoni does.
Updated Date: Jan 05, 2017 11:59 AM