Captaining Team India with a cricket crazy audience of a billion people, a team full of de-facto celebrities, and an administration packed with political heavy weights and yes men, is no mean task. It takes a unique combination of cricketing abilities, man management skills, PR skills and political savvy, along with some luck to be consistently successful at the job over a period of time.
MS Dhoni who has been on the job for a few months now has had a dream honeymoon period. A brand new form of the game where he was one of the undisputed senior players (along with Yuvraj), with the big three out of the picture, served as a terrific start. This was promptly followed by a couple of domestic tours. His promotion to ODI captaincy has been a nice upgrade from T20. The T20 World Cup victory has more than added to his stature. In this short period of time he has shown that he might just have the right mix of skills to succeed on the job. Here are a few signs.
- Dhoni spoke highly of the “out of control” Sreesanth (saying we need some aggressive folks around). However, he quietly dropped him from the playing eleven in favor of RP Singh when the young man could not back up his on the field antics with a good show with the ball. He made the right decision without getting caught up in all hype about the lead man in India’s newly found on-the- field aggressiveness.
- He makes it a point to always speak highly of Yuvraj whom he referred to as his “trump card” during the T20 World Cup. Considering that Yuvral was pipped for the captaincy at one point, and has been around longer than Dhoni himself, he seems to have established a good working relationship and figured out a way to get the best out of the man who is known to be full of himself (as per Greg Chappel). A sure sign that Dhoni has the skill to handle big egos.
- Despite Sehwag (another prospective captain at one-time) making it to the team, Dhoni favored Gambhir (his point man for T20 victories) in the playing eleven, saying that Gambir has been preferred over others (“meaning Dinesh Karthik” who was favored in England) and has never been given a steady stream of chances despite performing well. (It remains to be seen if Gambhir finds his way to the Test team ahead of Dinesh Karthick). Surely he has earned some serious loyalty from Gambhir in a fairly short period while signaling that present form is more important than past records.
- His decision to promote himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh in the first ODI against Pakistan was a master stroke. He knew that the target was achievable and that there was no real pressure to demand big hits. The situation demanded a cool head and steady batting. He trusted his abilities and backed himself to provide the stability. A move Rahul Dravid would have certainly had adopted if he were captain. The left right combination served to further legitimize the move. A perfect sign of a self-assured batsmen and a tactful captain.
- Then, the dropping of Dravid. When asked about Dravid’s dropping for the last ODI against Australia, Dhoni replied with a now trademark disarming smile that he was “rested“. Following this Dravid was dropped from the team for the first two ODIs. It is easy to brush this aside saying that Dhoni had little to do with it. It has been argued that this is a first step towards planning for a future beyond the Big 3 (Rahul, Saurav and Sachin) . If this is the case, its hard to imagine that this step was taken without the captain’s acquiescence. Besides, if Dhoni felt that Dravid was critical to the team he could very well have put his foot down and demanded his inclusion just as Dravid had fought for Sehwag’s spot during the World Cup. A clear sign that Dhoni is looking ahead into the future.
- Finally, the man himself has grown from a small town boy from Jharkhand to a national iconic figure to say the least, in a very short span of time. Bollywood’s latest newbie, Deepika Padukone has been linked to the young man already. For probably the first time in India’s sporting history has emerged a man who has a cult following of sorts. His aggressive hard hitting batting style has placed him well ahead of Sachin, Yuvraj, Sehwag and others on the popularity charts. Everyone from Bollywood stars to young kids seem to have taken to his hairstyle en masse. And at the peak of the mania, Dhoni goes in for a deep hair cut! Surely the man is not afraid of change.
Clearly, MS Dhoni has a lot going for him. His off the field persona combined with his on the field performance might just be the sort of leadership qualities that Team India needs. However, it remains to be seen how he handles the pressure when the team starts to lose heavily. The Australian tour will be a good test of Dhoni’s ability to handle pressure, even if he were not made the captain of the Test team.
Does all this mean that Dhoni is the best man to lead Team India in Tests at the present moment? This might be a moot point now that Tendulkar has declined the offer. The selectors might have no choice but to hand Dhoni the job.