The Don of Cricket Captains
Five captains stand tallest in the pantheon of cricket; Frank Worrell, Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell, Imran Khan & MS Dhoni. Worrell was the first black who captained the warring islands of the West Indies, with prodigious talent. When he toured Australia in 1960-61, with Weeks, Walcott, Hall, Griffith & Sobers, everybody thought they will wallop Australia. Little realize, how doughty the Australians can be under the captaincy of Riche Benaud. This series marked the first tied test in Brisbane and Benaud won the series 2-1. But the high point of the series was when Richie asked Worrell to loft the trophy with him and travel in an open motorcade with him in the streets of Australia. Richie said: We won the series; Worrell won the hearts. Ian Chappell marshaled his fast bowlers like Lillie & Thomson extremely well and pummelled England & other countries. Imran as Pakistan’s captain in the 80s was charisma personified. When his prowess waned in bowling, he won his country the Word Cup in 1992 through astute captaincy & doughty batting. But he was also hubris personified when he failed to acknowledge the stellar role played by other team members like Miandad, Akram & Inzzy. But MS Dhoni is a different kettle of fish & humility personified. When India won the World Cup in 2011, despite his spectacular innings and finish through a helicopter six, he allowed Sachin to hog all the limelight, though he fared badly in the finals.
His humility after winning the IPL final for the fifth time is a template of magnanimity. Instead of standing behind the cup & holding it, he sidestepped and asked Rayudu to stand behind & hold it. He knew it was Raydu’s last IPL match & he wanted him to savor the delight, for more than a decade’s solid performance as a batsman against pace & spin. He showed his vintage touch in the final with the lofted sixes & fours. Dhoni has this uncanny ability to get the best out of everybody, irrespective of their age & experience. The way he mentored the young rookies like Pathirana, who reminded me of Malinga & Deshpande with a mix of admonishment & encouragement was most heart-warming. in the absence of Ben Stokes, the charismatic all-rounder & Deepak Chahar who was injured initially, Dhoni was hugely handicapped, yet not disheartened. He proved how crisis can be an opportunity & from Daddy’s Army as CSK was initially called, he transformed them into the team on its wings with callow cubs on the rampage! The CSK team also has an incredible duo of openers, Rituraj, who was losing in confidence & David Conway, who could turn any match on its heads. Ajinkya was a revelation in this format, the way Dhoni reposed confidence in him. A player who was almost banished from the national side has now been resurrected, thanks to Dhoni’s quiet assurance that he will persist with him & calm hands that he puts invisibly over everyone.
The finals also unfolded a rare side of Dhoni as a doting family man. The way he held Santner’s daughter, mingled with the family members, including Mrs. Jadeja. One could clearly sense his middle-class moorings & value system. It was also an eye-opener to see how he lofted Jadeja after he hit the winning four. Dhoni is like Bjorn Borg, an iceberg to the core. Possibly the overwhelming win in the face of a massive 214 to chase, the uncertainty of rain, and the tight bowling of Mohit Sharma, opened Dhoni’s sluice gate of emotion. No wonder, Jadeja would be his likely successor in next year’s IPL for CSK.
It’s a pity that he could repeat the magic with the bat in the final, though he befuddled even the discerning the way he stumped Subman Gill, who has been the giant killer this time, with three delectable IPL centuries to dislodge RCB & MI. Dhoni’s last ball six in the 2011 WC final remains the most iconic shot that Indian cricket has seen. It was, therefore, disappointing to see him perish in the first ball that he faced. In this, he has a legendary predecessor to give the company, Don Bradman. In his last test in 1948, Don needed a four to have a batting average of 100 in test matches. As he descended the steps, his eyes were moist. And Eric Hollies bowled him for a blob. Bill Bowes writes that possibly his teary eyes could not pick up the googly. Dhoni in the post-match conversation also alluded to the fact that he was overwhelmed by the reception that he received & possibly his eyes were wet. Like Ulysses, the mind was willing but the body(eye) was weak for both Bradman & Don of captaincy! It’s quite likely that we have seen the last of Dhoni in an IPL match. IPL was mounted to celebrate gloss, glitz & glamour to tap the enormous potential of cricket to rake in mullahs. Karry Packer started it in 1977 with colored clothes & Big Boys Play at Night to demolish the orthodoxy of official cricket. While peace was restored by 1979, cricket was never the same & night cricket & its unalloyed celebration in a sense have outwitted the march of the orthodoxy of test cricket. Lalit brought in the concept of the Premier League & Packer’s WSC to IPL in 2008 & Dhoni’s CSK team became the champion in 2010, which he repeated in 2011. Dhoni with his Buddha-like demeanour has remained unaffected by the swirling glamour. His uncanny judgments behind stumps & lightning stumping to dismiss Subman Gill will remain abiding memory. Unlike Imran’s pedigreed indifference to his teammates after winning WC1992, the small-town boy from Ranchi has always valued friendship, loyalty & discipline as the sine qua non of excellence in a team game. Dhoni has given space to each of his teammates to perform at their best. Most importantly, humility rather than hubris, which has been the leitmotif of my unique journey as a captain, wicketkeeper & finisher par excellence. No wonder his appeal transcends Chennai & swathes all cricket grounds in India with a veil of yellow. He is the Don of Cricket Captains.