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Mahendra Singh Dhoni not a tactical genius, but his quiet confidence inspired the team

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has announced that he is standing down as the captain of India’s limited overs teams – both ODI and T20. As is typical of the man, the announcement came a bit out of the blue. No one was calling for him to hand over the captaincy to Virat Kohli, even with Kohli doing a fine job leading the Test team. But he has decided that he doesn’t want to be the leader of the limited over teams any more. Instead, he will be a rank and file player, still available for selection, just not leading on the field.

It will be bizarre to see Dhoni in an India team but not as the captain. The last time Dhoni played for India and wasn’t the captain was in October 2008 when current Team India coach, Anil Kumble, was in charge. For the best part of a decade when Dhoni has played for India he has done so as their leader, and he has done so with huge success.

His first captaincy assignment for India was at the inaugural World T20 in South Africa. India won it. By October of that year, Dhoni was the ODI captain, and in that role he led his side to victory at the 2011 World Cup, even hitting the winning runs when he drilled Nuwan Kulasekara for a six at the Wankhede Stadium. Two years later, he was in charge when India pulled off a remarkable come back to beat England in the 2013 Champions Trophy final.

MS Dhoni during India's ODI against New Zealand in Ranchi. AFP

MS Dhoni during India's ODI against New Zealand in Ranchi. AFP

In Test cricket, the format least suited to Dhoni’s game as a batsman and as a tactician, he also found success. While he was in charge, India reached the number one spot in the ICC Test rankings and stayed there from November 2009 to August 2011.

There will be pages and pages of newspapers and websites devoted to listing his on-field achievements, but all of that isn’t what sums up Dhoni. Yes, he was successful, and yes that success has further added to his mystique. He has won everything that you can win on a cricket field. But that isn’t the interesting thing about Dhoni!

If Sachin Tendulkar was the personification of a post-protectionist India that was coming of age, then Dhoni is the characterisation of 21st century India. An India that has a booming economy, that is the centre of the cricketing world and a country that is coming to terms with its place as a big player on the global stage.

This was evident from everything that Dhoni did, from dealing with the press to speaking with his teammates. A quiet confidence that oozed a sense of belonging at the top table sums up Dhoni and reflects a modern India.

Dhoni’s prickly, passive-aggressive press conferences have become infamous. There were times when you could see the hint of a smile, but you would be left wondering if you had just imagined it. From telling the assembled press that he didn’t have the technique for Tests at the start of a Test tour, to discussing retirement in the middle of another, Dhoni’s press conferences were very rarely dull.

While the press have enjoyed picking through the content of his pronouncements, more often than not, you suspected he was speaking to his team rather than his public. He wanted them to know that results are generated by following the right processes. He would always talk about the process.

“I believe in the process more than the result,” Dhoni told Mark Nicholas in AllOutCricket magazine in 2014. “If you are properly prepared, physically and mentally, committed to the task and fully engaged in the moment, then I have no problem with the outcome.”

And that sums up Dhoni the captain. He was never a man that would be overly joyous in victory or morose in defeat. This was his greatest strength, but also the reason why he has never generated feelings of fondness in opposing fans. There was always respect, his achievements made sure of that, but there has never been the love that other players have been afforded by those that follow their opponents. A man who didn’t seem to care if he won or lost isn’t going to make you feel warm and fuzzy.

Although that allegation of not caring is to fail to understand Dhoni. His calmness, his ability to remain clear-headed at the most difficult of moments stem from his ability to focus on the execution of a plan rather than the fear of failure or the anticipation of victory.

There is no better example of this than when England’s batting was falling apart at Edgbaston during the closing moments of the Champions Trophy final in 2013. India’s talismanic captain remained becalmed. He trusted Ishant Sharma with the ball when England needed 28 runs from 18 balls, with Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara well set.

No one else would have. Everyone thought he had made a mistake. But as was so often the case with Dhoni, his hunch paid off. His absolute faith in himself and his players was catching. Ishant took two wickets in two balls to dismiss both the set batsmen. A mere 20 minutes later, Dhoni was lifting the trophy in a fetching white jacket.

Dhoni is not a tactical genius, he is not a perfectly correct batsman or a brilliant exponent of wicketkeeping. Yet he wrung every single drop of talent and potential out of himself. You can’t imagine him giving a rousing speech like a General on the eve of battle. Instead his quiet confidence infected his team. He leaves the Indian captaincy with nothing left to win and as a true great.

The next challenge for Dhoni will be to step back from his leadership role and support Kohli, for surely it will be Kohli that takes over, and not overshadow his replacement. Dhoni has captained his country more times than any cricketer in history and is a hero to many of those that are members of this Indian team. Melting into the background will be Dhoni’s next big test, but he rarely fails at anything he does.

Updated Date: Jan 05, 2017 10:20 AM

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