Dhoni still braving all odds to come up trumps

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 21, 2013 09:46 hrs

Is there any cricketing job in the international game that carries more pressure than that of the Indian captain? The answer clearly is a firm ''no'' and perhaps nothing symbolizes this more than the premature graying of MS Dhoni's hair! 

It is never easy to shrug off the sky high expectations of the Indian cricket fans who can be over emotional, anything but logical in their thinking and outlook and unforgiving towards even the smallest lapse, tactically or otherwise. They only want victories and even one narrow defeat can draw flak of the unimaginable kind. 

Of course that's being unreasonable but that's the way they are.

Indian captains - from CK Nayudu to Dhoni - have experienced these pitfalls. It is after all a post that carries with it an internal and international prestige that probably rivals only that of the Prime Minister. But things were a bit different in the old days. 

For one thing a win was a rare event while a draw was a moral victory. But after the Indian team started winning a bit more regularly at home and abroad in the 70s and 80s the expectations became higher, the pressure more intense and media scrutiny that much closer. 

But even the captains in those days like Sunil Gavaskar, Bishen Bedi and Kapil Dev did not face the kind of pressure that skippers have had to endure in the new millennium. 

The Indian cricket fans have become more vociferous, perhaps even intolerant, the expectations are now even more than sky high and the media scrutiny at most times crosses limits.

Even the strongest can crack under such pressure and Indian captains are no exceptions. So we have had instances of a fall in their batting or bowling standards, incorrect team selection, errors in strategic decisions, wrong bowling changes or field placements. Fingers can be pointed out against Dhoni too in almost any direction but one  - the unbelievable pressure hasn't affected his batting or his keeping. 

It cannot be easy to lead in all three formats and perform two other arduous duties and it is to Dhoni's credit that under him India have won the T-20 World Cup, the Fifty50 World Cup and being elevated to the No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings. It's a tough cricketing world out there with not much separating the top half a dozen teams and to achieve this treble is an outstanding achievement.

Those were the days when Dhoni couldn't do a thing wrong. He could walk on water or climb Mount Everest without oxygen. Everything he touched turned into gold. He was the Teflon captain so much so that no criticism stuck to him. The cynics made much of the lack factor and pointed out that he had too many things going in his favour. But then don't all successful captains have more than their share of good fortune?
The Indian captaincy need not be a crown of thorns as Rahul Dravid made it seem when he resigned in 2007. It all depends on the captain's attitude and Dhoni's was refreshingly different. It was palpable that he was actually enjoying the job even while taking difficult situations and adverse conditions in his stride. His perennial sunny smile symbolized his optimism, his upbeat mood.
This was also the time when Dhoni was the most intuitive captain since Kapil Dev. He himself said that he went more by instinct when it came to making a decision on the field or in picking a particular player. His captaincy was marked by innovative touches by way of shrewd bowling changes, placing fieldsmen in attacking positions and the willingness to try something different. 

Like his batting, his captaincy too was adventurous and full of surprises. Behind that perennial smile lurked a wise cricketing brain and his calm demeanour and ''Captain Cool'' image were qualities that stood him in good stead.    
I remember writing at the peak of his success about three years ago that no path can be full of roses and Dhoni was bound to come up against the thorns sometime in the future.  But given his sunny, positive attitude I commented that one could not see Dhoni getting flustered or frustrated and he could take even such adverse situations in his stride. 

Well, the wheels of fortune have turned in the last 18 months. The Indian team under Dhoni has hurtled from one defeat to another, even at home considered to be their stronghold. But Dhoni has taken all this in his stride. Sure, he has made mistakes tactically and in selection matters or while misjudging a surface. 

The successive defeats have also made him more rigid and a touch more defensive in his approach. But given the fact that he is now leading teams without the services of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, that there has been a fall in the contribution from other stalwarts and that the team is in transition, little blame can be attached to Dhoni.
In any case Dhoni has not let the pressures or the disappointments affect his batting and keeping. While continuing to be brilliant behind the stumps he is proving to be the great finisher before the stumps, joining the ranks of Michael Bevan and Mike Hussey in this regard. 

There is a palpable change in his batting style as he prefers to anchor the run chase or script the recovery act from No 6. Moreover his sunny smile, the cheery disposition and the upbeat outlook have not disappeared even these days when things are not exactly hunky dory with the Indian team.
There has been much talk about replacing Dhoni, about relieving him from the captaincy in at least one format. Such talk should cease for he is still the best candidate around. 

Among the other contenders Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir cannot command a place in the side - in more than one format -  any more while Virat Kohli going by his behavior wherein he is increasingly losing his cool has lost a lot of friends. 

Captaincy requires tact and diplomacy and Kohli at the moment at least has a lot to learn in this regard.
Whichever way one looks at it, Dhoni has to continue at the helm in all three formats. In fact since he obviously has the 2015 World Cup firmly slotted in his mind he should be given a bigger hand in picking the players he feels could play a major role in defending the trophy two years hence. 

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