Even as the ball passed a despairing James Tredwell’s bat, the normally inscrutable M.S. Dhoni jumped and punched the air in delight. Not once but a few times. Maybe he even allowed himself a smile.
“It means a lot because you’re playing against some of the best sides, and also the kind of match that we had won,” he explained his reaction later. “To beat England in a 130-run game is something that’s very difficult.”
This has been a new Dhoni, an animated — not on the Virat Kohli scale, but by his own sedate standards — and openly eager variant. Maybe he feels this is his team, his own boys — the whole squad younger than him — to lead.
At Edgbaston on Sunday night, Dhoni’s work, like it has been the whole tournament, bore an inspired quality. Like his deployment of his trusted spinners Ashwin and Jadeja, and his stumping of Jonathon Trott — a dismissal he later felt was critical in shaping the outcome — and Ian Bell.
Then he kept a monkish, clear head under pressure that can often cloud judgement, like it did England’s.
With victory in the Champions Trophy, Dhoni has completed his collection of ICC silverware as captain — after the 2007 World T20 and the 2011 World Cup. He has been at pains to state all along, though, that he has never desired them personally. The trophies were hardly going to go into his cabinet, he had protested at the start of the competition.
“I never turn up on the field to achieve something as a captain,” he said after the final. “For me, winning the game as a team is of utmost importance.” However much he may detest such individual appreciation, it is hard to ignore the role he has played at the helm of the national side.
Under him, India reached the top of the Test rankings (a level they’ve subsequently been toppled from), won the T20 and 50-over World Cups, and is now the undisputed king of the one-day game. Dhoni is the country’s most successful Test captain and is nine wins away from leapfrogging Mohd. Azharuddin in the ODI section.
However, this latest triumph — a bruising, unbeaten run through the competition with a team that was anything but the favourite — should firmly locate him among Indian cricket’s greatest leaders.
“I feel there is a bit of similarity between World T20 in 2007 that we won and this tournament,” he noted. “Back there too there were quite a number of players who were making their comebacks into the team, so they wanted to do well desperately. That is the case in this team also.”
Whereas the 2011 World Cup was different, he said. “We had very experienced players and some of them felt it could be their last World Cup because of age and everything. There was also the fact that it was happening in India; we all wanted to do well because the expectation was too much. I think the similarities are between the 2007 and this team.”
There is a feeling that this is an assignment Dhoni will enjoy the most, being responsible for a hungry, youthful lot in a future full of bright possibility. Defending only 130, what had he told his team, he was asked.
“Before going in, I said, ‘Let’s first of all get rid of the feeling that it’s a 50-over game. It’s a 20-over game, and we have seen in IPL and in T20 formats, 130 runs can be a difficult target to achieve.”
And more importantly, there would be no looking to the skies. “I said, ‘God is not coming to save us. If you want to win this trophy, we’ll have to fight it out. We are the number-one ranked ODI side, so let’s make sure that they have to fight for these 130-odd runs.”
England fought and lost.