My generation has been very lucky to see a wonderful evolution of Indian cricket – from talented underachievers in 90s to ruthlessly invincibles now. The oldest memories of cricket that we have are the ones of India winning 1985 Benson & Hedges World Series. Back then India was an underdog in most of the competitions (1987 World cup was an exception, where we were favorites). Despite being World Champions in 1983, nobody really was scared of India. In fact against Pakistan, (especially when playing at Sharjah), India used to lose even before taking the field. Still, World Cup of 1983, Rothmans Cup of 1984 and Benson & Hedges Series of 1985 were examples of the potential, the Indian team had. From a talented underdog, India declined to a moderately talented underachiever during the first half of 90s. During those days Indian team was mostly ‘Sachin et al’. A Sachin century was enough for us to forget the pains of defeats. However, it all changed at the beginning of the new century, when Sourav Ganguly took reigns of Indian Cricket. Ganguly changed the very body language of Indian cricket. Under Ganguly the team ‘looked’ like winning.
And then arrived Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Initially he reminded everyone of a young Kapil Dev. Not because both of them were from a non-metro Hindi belt city, but because of the similarity in terms of fearlessness and disregard for batting technique. Some even compared him with Virender Sehwag for the apparent disregard for traditional batting manual. Dhoni was flamboyance personified. I had seen him first in a triangular tournament played in Kenya, between India A, Pakistan A and Kenya. India A had defeated Pakistan A in the final and Dhoni had caught everybody’s attention with his strokeplay and long hair.
However Dhoni has proven himself to be lot more than mere flamboyance. Good sportsmen become great by conquering pressure. Captaincy brought the best of Dhoni out on field. Dhoni the batsman and the wicket keeper had already had a great impact on Indian cricket. But Dhoni the captain, changed his image and his influence completely. As a captain he not only showed how well he handled the pressure, but he also showed what a shrewd reader of the situation he was. Dhoni has always trusted his instincts. Some of his instincts have even baffled others. So many of his gambles have paid off, one has to accept that they are not sheer gambles. Rather, he reads the situation better than anybody else. How can you explain his decision to give the last over to little known Joginder Sharma in the final of the inaugural World T20? Or how can you explain his decision to continue with Ishant Sharma in Champions Trophy final against England?
Dhoni is not speculative or lucky, he thinks and reacts differently to situations. Same is true for his technique. He has at times been criticized for lacking in technique in his batting. However with poor technique one cannot manage to have the average in 50s after playing more than 200 One-Day Internationals. Dhoni has a different technique. It’s neither as elegant as that of VVS Laxman nor it is as perfect as that of Rahul Dravid. Still it’s different. It’s his own and it has been very effective.
Apart from being a successful captain, batsman and wicket keeper, Dhoni has been able to create an aura of invincibility around himself and around the team. He didn’t have to build the team from scratch, like Sourav Ganguly, still he has managed to take the team to a new level. Even as a batsman, time and again Dhoni has shown, what a fantastic finisher he is, in limited overs cricket. Whenever he is on field, the Indian fan feels relaxed and calm. Last night during the final of Celkon cup, even when India had lost 9 wickets and still needed 20 runs, Indian supporters were calm. Nobody doubted India’s victory as long as Dhoni was there. (Look at the two videos embedded below)
Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest batsman to have ever played the game and Sourav Ganguly was probably a better captain than Dhoni. Still, his insticts, his spontaneity, his understanding of the game and his ability to handle pressure situations, make Dhoni probably the best cricketing mind, India has ever produced!