For a violent batsman, Dhoni appears to own the calm of a wartime surgeon, writes Rohit Brijnath
It’s hard to find an unused adjective to compliment Mahendra Singh Dhoni because an entire dictionary of them has been thrown at him. Herein begins his first test: maintaining his balance as a cricketer even while he is hailed as a God.
We don’t know Dhoni yet, we only presume to, but it’s impossible not to like what we see, or to be unwilling to follow him on a cricketing adventure. For a violent batsman, Dhoni appears to own the calm of a wartime surgeon. No man is immune to nerves, but he managed his well, his body language radiating an assurance that his team and his country held onto.
A youthful captain driving a young team can be disadvantaged by the absence of experience, yet also advantaged by a sense of connectedness through age. With Dravid or Tendulkar perhaps players feel a trifle restrained; with Dhoni, who shares their vocabulary, their play had the scent of abandon.
Being the underdogs, partially freed the players. But Dhoni further unchained them by offering them the licence to express their skills and emotions, yet himself stayed in admirable control amidst the exuberance.
So rare is such victory in India that predictably there is a leaning towards over-praise. In such times, a winning captain is portrayed as absent of any flaw, yet no one is sure of how Dhoni will manage defeat, criticism, dressing room grumbles. To draw too many conclusions about his team would be folly, too, for the true test of any skill is to repeat it over long periods and Twenty20 doesn’t demand that.
For all the effusiveness over India’s fielding, their athleticism was required for only 20 overs. Anyway, all tests of intensity are waiting in Australian yellow. Ponting’s men have not liked being second best, and already some are grumbling uncharitably.
Dhoni has earned his million love letters, and a period where India should suspend judgement and let him grow. He had better be as tough as he looks for the BCCI’s job is simply to make his harder. Giving one crore to Yuvraj Singh for hitting six shots, however beautiful, is not just vulgar in a poor country, it is a celebration of individualism when Indian captains are valiantly trying to sell the idea of ‘team’. But then officials, who pushed themselves into the team photograph in South Africa, thrive on playing to the gallery.
Interesting days await
Interesting days await Dhoni. When this writer asked John Buchanan what he might advise the young Indian captain, a short list was hurriedly drawn up. First, said the former Australian coach, with a quiet laugh, Dhoni should arm himself with a coach. Second, “he should be clear in what type of game he’s trying to deliver”. Does he want everyone to go hard like him, to be nervy and in your face? What combinations does he prefer, batting in depth, spinner-heavy or mostly pacers?
Third, says Buchanan, he will have to spend time to make this vision happen, he will have to be patient. “If he wants to take India in a direction, it takes time”. Fourth, in between dealing with selectors and the media, he has to allocate time to invest in his own game. Fifth, he must summon individual players and instruct them about the team he envisions, the roles he expects of them.
This could be tricky with two captains. Tendulkar as Test captain will allow Dhoni to settle himself in one-dayers, but dissimilar captaincy styles, just as a supposedly new team is forming, could also become confusing.
On Wednesday, Dhoni said, “Guys from small towns are generally mentally and physically tougher than those coming from the metros.” City fellows will rightfully argue this, but it is not a new theory.
In tennis, it is argued that American women have declined because they are spoilt, while Russian and Serbian women, who lack facilities, have risen because they are hungrier. They just want it more. It is this insatiable greed for success that Dhoni has to infect his team with.