Chennai Super Kings need 22 runs from 22 balls against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Seems easy except CSK has retired warhorses batting: Suresh Raina and M S Dhoni. After two balls go for dots as Raina tries for singles in this September 24th match, Dhoni walks up and talks to Raina. The next two balls are dispatched for a four and a six. With 12 needed from 18, the match has tilted in CSK's favour.
How many times have we seen Mahendra Singh Dhoni read a situation, walk up to someone, and inject his sense of clarity into the other who then delivers instantly at a crucial moment? These Dhonisian moments have inspired an industry of memes and video collages because if in life we have psychedelics like LSD, in the cricketing arena we have MSD who makes visible the impossible.
In the RCB vs CSK contest of September 24, riding on Captain Kohli's shots, RCB were coasting comfortably on 90 for no loss in 10 overs. 180 to 200 runs were thought of as inevitable from hereon. But many Dhonisian moments later RCB managed only 156, eventually losing after those two hits by Raina.
Today, there are statistics for everything e.g. how many runs does an athletic fielder like Ravindra Jadeja save, used to justify his inclusion in the national team. That's tangible because the saves are visible. But how do you calculate the intangible inputs of a great captain like Dhoni? Instead of 180, if RCB managed only 156, how many of the 24 runs or how many of the 10 runs in two crucial balls hit by Raina, could you attribute to Dhoni?
And the most important thing which no one specializes in as good as Dhoni: how do you rate the wisdom, the superfast mental calculations he musters thanks to his expertise and experience?
Problem is, we forget that in a team sport like cricket – the captain is the key, his contributions invisible, but crucial. Hence, when we rate a captain, we cannot use the typical yardsticks of a bowler, batter, or fielder.
Let's consider what Dhoni can and cannot do. What he isn't, is the great batsman he once was. His IPL 2021 record so far is 84 runs in 13 matches with an average of 14. This is a problem because we know what he is capable of. Yet, the actual problem here is that while we can see Dhoni's slide with the bat, we fail to see him get better in his wicket keeping and captaincy.
Let me explain. When was the last time we talked about the batting form of Jasprit Bumrah or Mohammed Shami? Never, right. That's because what we expect of both is to bowl well. In the same vein, I propose that we adjust our perception and forget that Dhoni is a batsman. Let us assume that his batting prowess is like Shami or Bumrah, who occasionally can work wonders but otherwise bat at 9 or 10. Because here's the thing: what outweighs his batting weaknesses, are his herculean strengths: he can keep wickets like an elastic angel and captain like a cunning devil. What he can't make with the bat, he more than scores with his captaincy and wicket-keeping.
There's no brain as sharp at reading the situation and using what is available as well as him. Before there were computers and Artificial Intelligence readings matches, there was M S Dhoni not only analysing but making changes based on that. This has led to the Dhoni-intuition aka Dhonisian moments that can turn a game in an instant even when he doesn't have the best players around.
An amazing fact about the CSK side Dhoni has captained since its inception is that they do not change players even after a crushing defeat. Dhoni prefers to talk and work with his players rather than punish them for a bad day. Dhoni is quiet, reliable in person and his power lies in his gut, not in his facial expressions.
And let's not forget that his mentoring skills over the years have earned him the sobriquet of Mentor Singh Dhoni. Let's not even begin talking about the innovations he has brought to wicket-keeping, something the world copies today. There are keepers and then there's quick gun Dhoni.
It was good to see that Virat Kohli spend a lot of time, as a sandstorm held up the match on September 24, talking to Dhoni. He did the same after the end of the match. The body language of both players - just as the result of the match – leaving no one in doubt as to who is still the boss of the format. With the T20 World Cup round the corner, it was not the match but these moments that were the most precious for team India.
As for Dhoni, someday in the future when the matrices and indices are refined further, we will perhaps be able to calculate in numbers, how much MSD contributed to each match he captained.
The post-RCB-CSK match ceremony was emblematic. Suresh Raina won the super striker of the match award for his Dhoni-nudged cameo in the end. Virat Kohli won three awards - one for a catch, another as the most valuable asset, and the last as the power player of the match. Mahendra Singh Dhoni didn't win a single one of these tangibly calculated awards. He – only, merely, simply – won his team the match.
(Satyen K. Bordoloi is a scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. He loves to let his pen roam the intersection of artificial intelligence, consciousness, and quantum mechanics. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)
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