Dhoni has really understood the game and has calm confidence about his own ability, writes Greg Chappell
The first time that I sat up and took notice of MS Dhoni was during a training camp at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, in mid-2005. He was batting in the nets at the BEML end of the ground with Ajit Agarkar amongst the bowlers.
On what was a slow, low practice pitch, Dhoni looked quite comfortable on the front foot, so I asked Ajit to test him with a bouncer. Ajit had a very good bouncer that often surprised batsmen, especially on the slower wickets.
He bowled a beauty. Not too short, rising to about Adam's apple height over the right shoulder. Dhoni, unfazed, rocked back onto his back foot and hit the ball as hard and high, in front of square, as I had ever seen a ball struck. The ball rocketed up to hit the facia of the stand about 50m above the playing field.
The sound of ball hitting bat, and ball hitting facia, seemed to be simultaneous. It was one of the most audacious shots that I had ever seen. Had it not hit the facia of the stand, it would have landed in the Police Parade Ground, hundreds of metres away, on Link Road!
During that same camp, we had some sessions of simulated match practice aimed at improving the team's ability to chase targets in One-Day matches. The recent history in run chases was extremely poor. It soon became apparent that Dhoni was one of the best ‘finishers' in this format.
Dhoni's grounding in tennis-ball cricket is obvious in the way he bats. He has an inimitable and unorthodox technique. With his strength, he is capable of hitting balls into places that only few others can conceive. He is the best attacking player of the yorker I have ever seen. I once saw him hit a James Anderson yorker straight back over the bowler's head for six. It was awesome.
Other things that I soon learnt about Dhoni was he really understood the game, he had a calm confidence about his own ability and was not bothered with false modesty. If he thought he could do something, he was not scared to say so. Not in an egotistical way; just forthright. This was also unique to Dhoni and I found it refreshing.
It was clear to me that Dhoni was a captain in the making. Whenever I thought of Dhoni, I was reminded of the quote from Bhagavad Gita, ‘It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of someone else's life with perfection.'
At the time, I thought that Dhoni's destiny was to lead India to the pinnacle of world cricket. I still believe that. He has led them to a T20 and 50-over World Cup victory. Test cricket has not been as easy to tame.
Records, good and bad
Dhoni's overall win record of 46 % in Tests, as captain, is not bad. His home record of 66% wins is excellent, but the glitch in his record is a win ratio of 26% from 19 Tests away from the comforts of home.
This record has been hammered on recent tours to England and Australia; probably the two toughest tours for Indian players brought up on the batting-friendly strips at home.
What bothered me most about this tour of Australia is that Dhoni looked tired and bereft of ideas, at times, during the Test series. His batting confirmed it as he appeared to be struggling to make the mental effort required to tackle the persistent Australian bowling.
This set the tone for the rest of his charges, who often looked resigned to the inevitable, long before the game was decided.
Has the demand of having the top job in the three formats, plus the IPL, jaded Dhoni to the point where he wants to give up on his ‘Dharma' of leading India to the top?
Not only does Indian cricket need him to see out his destiny, but the game in a broader sense and Test cricket in particular, needs him. No one else appears to have his combination of charisma, calmness and strength of character to bring together the right people, on and off the field, to make this happen.
If you need any further confirmation, just ask corporate India.
Keywords: MS Dhoni