From Cricbuzz.com dated july 12 2013 by Siddharth Vishwanathan
In sport, when a sportsman achieves everything, his reputation and legacy on that sport assumes legendary proportion. Winning a golden grand slam in Tennis gives the player an aura of invincibility. Winning all the golf majors puts a golfer on the pedestal of immortality. Likewise, winning the world championship in chess in all formats gives that sportsman the license to call himself the best there is. In cricket, when captains win everything that is there in the sun, his path to greatness gets assured. In the case of MS Dhoni, his leadership in cricket has transformed Indian cricket in such a way that when fans look back at this era, it will truly be called ‘The Golden Era’. The focus in this article is celebrating MS Dhoni, the leader who continues to excel with each passing day.
In countless articles regarding the attributes of a successful leader, the common themes that arise most of the time are confidence, commitment, positive attitude, intuition, ability to inspire and creativity. If one looks at the playing tenure of Dhoni, one can observe that he slots comfortably in each of those factors.
From his starting days as a player, Dhoni already had the confidence and positive attitude. In his knocks of 148 and 183 against Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively, Dhoni gave aggression a whole new dimension. It was the confidence in his batting that gave indications of his future role as a leader.
When Dhoni stepped up to the role of the Indian skipper, it was dark days for team India. They had been knocked out in the first round of the 2007 World Cup. Although they had won a Test series in England, the World Cup loss continued to hurt. To compound their woes, the T20 World Cup was just around the corner. This was a format that India did not even take seriously. Before the tournament started, India were not even given a chance. However, with the progress of each match, the world saw two factors in Dhoni’s captaincy. The confidence and the positive attitude that he brought out among the players galvanized the side as they took the world by storm and reached the final.
The final against Pakistan went down to the last ball thriller. Experts on air were saying that Dhoni should have opted for the more experienced bowler to bowl. However, he sprang a surprise by bringing on the inexperienced Joginder Sharma. In many spheres of life, risk-taking is not for the timid. It is a double-edged sword when it comes to a tense final against a bitter rival. However, through the attributes of creativity, confidence and positive attitude, Dhoni backed Joginder and what followed next was historic. India won the tense match by five runs and that set the tone for Indian cricket to surge upwards in the coming times.
Following the successful boost, there were some turbulent times ahead. India managed to lose an ODI series to Australia at home but managed to win a series against Pakistan. A loss in the tri-series and in the Asia Cup was the case of baptism by fire for Dhoni. In the midst of those losses, Dhoni had achieved an important victory in the CB series against Australia. It was an acrimonious tour and Dhoni realized that for the team to achieve victory, it needed commitment from all his players. In the face of adversity, Dhoni’s positive attitude rubbed off on all the players and everybody was focused and committed on winning. India roundly thrashed Australia 2-0 in the finals to register their first ever victory in a triangular ODI competition in Australia. By achieving this victory, Dhoni demonstrated that with positive attitude, teams can perform well in hostile environments, thus making players mentally strong to sustain pressure.
With positive attitude and mental strength, India started winning more series and matches, both at home and away. In fact, from the period of August 2008 to September 2009, India managed to win a total of six consecutive series under Dhoni, out of which, five were outside India. All these wins set the base for the lofty heights India would achieve later.
Fast-forward to April 2nd 2011. India are taking on Sri Lanka in Mumbai during the final of the ICC World Cup and India are in trouble chasing 275 for a win. At that point, ordinary individuals would have stuck to the status quo of adhering to the plan and sending in an in-form batsman. However, Dhoni chose to unfurl his moment of intuition and decided to promote himself up the order. What followed next was historic. Dhoni smashed an unbeaten 91 and gave a nation of billion people an unforgettable night as India clinched the World Cup after 28 years. Intuition is a remarkable aspect in psychology which very few people are blessed with and luckily in the case of Dhoni, his intuition that the team needed a calming influence during troubled times proved to be right.
As a leader, every team or organization faces a crisis point at some time. The team cracks or stays united depending upon the calmness of the leader. After the high of the World Cup win, India suffered a horrendous slump as they were whitewashed 4-0 in the Test series in both England and Australia. They failed to win a single limited overs match in England while they failed to reach the tri-series final in Australia. Even a single loss at some events led to their elimination, the most notable being the Asia Cup in 2012 and the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka. However, Dhoni displayed a calm demeanour and honestly spoke about the weakness of the team. When a leader is honest, it gives time for the others to introspect, which leads to self improvement.
The ability to back a team-member and get the best out of him irrespective of countless failures makes a leader stand-out. For Dhoni, his backing of Ravindra Jadeja, a player who has been maligned since his debut, has reaped rich rewards. From picking up 24 wickets in the Test series against Australia to becoming the highest wicket-taker in the Champions Trophy, Dhoni has shown that backing players gives them confidence to bloom on a larger stage.
It was Dhoni’s risk taking ability that helped India win the Champions Trophy. In England, the conceived notion was that the swing bowlers will run amok. However, Dhoni realized that the pitches were dry and that is why he persisted with two spinners. In the final, Ishant Sharma had gone for plenty of runs but Dhoni backed him and he responded with two wickets in the 18th over to give India victory. By winning the Champions Trophy, Dhoni completed the perfect set in which he won all the ICC limited overs trophies, making him the only captain to achieve this feat and also helping India become the second team after the West Indies to achieve this feat.
If one talks about leading from the front and the ability to inspire the team, then Dhoni has done it on numerous occasions. One only needs to look at this Tri-series final between India and Sri Lanka at Port-of-Spain to realize how Dhoni is keen to win everything. Still unfit with a hamstring injury, Dhoni hung in there and kept his cool in the face of mounting pressure. With 15 needed off the last over bowled by Shaminda Eranga, Dhoni smashed a six, a four and then a six to win the trophy on one leg. As far as leading from the front goes, this knock, along with the knock in the World Cup final, seals the deal.
One only needs to look at the list of trophies and achievements to admire Dhoni’s brilliance. He has won the T20 World Cup, achieved the No.1 ranking in Tests, No. l ranking in ODIs, won the 50 over World Cup, Champions Trophy, Asia Cup, the Indian T20 League twice, the World T20 League, series wins in West Indies, New Zealand, a 4-0 whitewash of Australia in Tests, most number of wins in Tests as skipper and a drawn series in South Africa.
However, if one looks at the history of great leaders, they have always had a final frontier that has proven to be their stumbling block. For Dhoni, a Test series win in England, South Africa and Australia will seal his position as one of the greatest leaders in Indian cricket. For the moment though, India can smile that the Iceman continues to bring smiles to billions of fans in India.