The wheels of fortune have turned full circle for MS Dhoni. Not too long ago he couldn’t do a thing wrong, was the man with the Midas touch and presided over a series of notable triumphs. Then he couldn’t do a thing right, India went from one bad defeat to another with the nadir being a rare home series loss against England.
Now happy days are here again. India are winning by emphatic margins against Australia, a revenge whitewash looms ahead and Dhoni himself has become the most successful Test captain in Indian cricket history. The cynics might say that the real test will be in South Africa but that is for later.
Right now Dhoni is deservingly enjoying his moment of glory. It is not easy to run up a record of 22 victories in 45 Tests as an Indian captain even if 17 of the wins have come about at home. After all it must not be forgotten that the man has led India to two World Cup triumphs besides being at the helm when India for the first time scaled the summit in Test cricket too.
One would like to be a bit more positive at a time like this. Even if the visiting Australian side has been disappointing, two victories by margins that brook no argument cannot just be dismissed as non-events. One can give credit to the team too for which the wheels of fortune might be turning a full circle. But my point is that if Dhoni was hauled over the coals for the team’s defeats over the last two years he should be showered with plaudits for the recent victories.
To be candid I have often marvelled at Dhoni’s equanimity. In an age when reactions on the cricket field border on the obscene, have gone overboard and are downright unacceptable, Dhoni’s ability to take the twin imposters of Rudyard Kipling – triumph and disaster – in much the same manner has always fascinated me.
He is not carried away by anything be it either positive or negative. He stays calm and composed under whatever pressure cooker situation the team might be facing and given the status that cricket enjoys in this country, the pressure on the Indian captain can never be overemphasized.
But ever since he first led India, he has proved to be a natural leader who is able to take the good with the bad, the positive with the negative, the victories along with the defeats in his stride not getting easily excited or agitated. It is an attitude that belongs to a previous age when the behaviour on the field was tempered and balanced.
The Indian captaincy need not be a crown of thorns as Rahul Dravid made it out to be when he quit in 2007. It all depends on the captain’s attitude and Dhoni’s has been refreshingly different. He is actually enjoying the job even while taking difficult situations, adverse conditions and the immense pressure in his stride.
His perennial sunny smile symbolizes his optimism, his upbeat mood and he has the happy knack of saying the right things at the right time, even during media conferences. This was evident at the end of the Hyderabad Test but even during the period of heavy losses he has never been morose or unsociable.
Dhoni has more than once spelt out his philosophy with respect to winning and losing. He has always wanted his team to enjoy the game and express themselves freely on the field. "When you take the pressure situation of a big game and start worrying about results, it does affect your performance. So I tell my team not to take any pressure on themselves."
Needless to say, the team’s response to this philosophy has generally been spontaneous. There has been a lot of self-belief, confidence and commitment shown by the players. They have dared to be aggressive, have backed their instincts and achieved notable results.
Dhoni's hands-on captaincy has made him an inspiring leader who considers himself first among equals. "As a captain, I couldn't have asked for more. My team gave me no room to complain and made my job easy. I expect them to maintain the same effort level and intensity in the future,’’ he has said.
Besides displaying astute leadership qualities, Dhoni has always been the public relations man supreme, always having a good word for everyone and making particular references when someone comes up with a brilliant effort with the bat or ball or in the field.
Dhoni’s detractors might say that he has been lucky and that he has had too many things in his favour. But then don’t all successful captains have more than their share of good fortune? On the other hand too much must not be made of the luck factor. Even with everything falling into place one cannot have Dhoni’s record as captain just on this factor alone.
He has notched up too many significant achievements to be called as just another lucky captain. On dynamism and entertainment value, he was the best thing to happen to Indian cricket in eons. And now on results under his leadership, he is again the best thing to happen to Indian cricket in eons.
Dhoni has clearly debunked the age old cliche that a captain is only as good as his team. He is obviously of the view that a captain can transform a team and make things happen. He believes that good, successful captaincy is all about getting a cricketer to play above his level.
After all, what is a captain if not a motivator? Dhoni has instilled in his team a sense of self-confidence something that he possesses in abundance. The ultimate measure is results and on that basis Dhoni the captain is arguably the best thing to happen to Indian cricket.
When things were going right for Dhoni till the debacle in England in 2011, the cynics pointed out that no path could be full of roses and the Indian captain was bound to come up against the thorns sometime in the future. Well, Dhoni did have more than his share of thorns in the last couple of years but he retained his sunny, positive attitude, didn’t get flustered or frustrated and took even the adverse situations in his stride. This equanimity has been Dhoni’s greatest strength.