June 18, 2009

Michael Jeh

There's something about Dhoni

Michael Jeh
MS Dhoni swats one down the ground, England v India, ICC World Twenty20 Super Eights, Lord's, June 14, 2009
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What’s not to like about MS Dhoni? Even as an outsider, a neutral, someone who just watches cricket for the sheer pleasure of the sport without any patriotic leanings, I find myself drawn towards a character like Dhoni. He is hard to dislike.

Reading his post-match interviews after India’s surprising exit from the World T20 Championship, it is clear that Dhoni is a man who is comfortable in his own skin. He offers reasons, not excuses. He accepts blames, shares it sometimes but never looks to shift it. He concedes mistakes, both by himself and from his team without appearing to be too self-effacing or disloyal. He has a quiet dignity that is able to accept defeat with relative grace whilst still showing the right measure of pain and disappointment. The captain of India needs to walk this line carefully. Too many self-recriminations and the knives will be out. Too blasé and they’ll accuse you of not caring enough. Dhoni looks to have found the right balance.

It was interesting to see that the first person he singled out for blame was himself. He admitted to not doing as well as he would have liked, to not playing the sort of explosive innings that his early reputation was forged on and for getting it slightly wrong with certain tactical decisions. He wasn’t necessarily apologising because he doesn’t need to. Why apologise? He didn’t mean to bat poorly or make tactical errors – it just happened. That's T20 cricket for you - it's a very fine line between winning and losing. So he didn’t apologise but he still expressed regret and took responsibility.

Even on the field, there’s a lot to admire about his captaincy style. He manages to strike that delicate balance between being animated and excited without crossing the line to becoming hyper-excited or irrationally emotional. Watching from afar, you sense the players trust him, respect him but do not fear him. Chris Gayle errs on the side of being ‘ultra cool’ although the word on the street is that his players adore him. To be fair, his style tends to suit the West Indian cricketing culture where almost all of their captains were strong men who rarely got flustered. I can’t think of the last Windies skipper who ‘lost it’ in public, despite some terrible floggings in recent times. Even Lara, tortured genius that he was, displayed great manners and dignity throughout his difficult reign.

Back to Dhoni though – I just hope that the post-mortem from the T20 disappointments don’t go too far and see him removed from the job. He’s a breath of fresh air for the game and it continues India's recent tradition of captains who command respect. Dravid and Kumble were both men who believed that to be strong did not mean you had to throw your weight around like a bully. Both quintessential gentlemen. Like them, Dhoni appears strong enough to stand up to any international captain but affable enough to make every effort to get on with them too. You get the sense that he commands genuine respect from the opposition.

He might have to look at his own game and ponder on whether the captaincy is curbing those wonderful attacking instincts that announced his arrival on the world stage. He is probably more reliable these days but does India need that from him? I would prefer to see someone else playing the Mr Reliable role and Dhoni returning to being the powerhouse middle-order batsman who can transform a game in a few brutal minutes. He is probably less feared today than he was two years ago. Ask most opposition teams which Dhoni they’d fear more and I suspect it would be Dhoni Mark I.

The partnership with Gary Kirsten should be a good one for India. Kirsten was an uncomplicated player without frills or ego but his effectiveness as a very fine batsman was never questioned. Like Dhoni, he seems to be an essentially decent man who operates without histrionics and public displays of petulance or triumphalism. For India’s sake, I hope the partnership is allowed to continue. For the sake of world cricket, it’s important to have two strong men of integrity leading the most influential team in the world, on and off the field.

I just hope the team balance allows the real MS Dhoni to show himself again. I’m talking about the man with wrists of steel who uses a short backlift to muscle the ball over the boundary. India has plenty of others who can play the percentages but when a player like Dhoni comes along, it would be a crying shame to shackle his instincts. Maybe that’s what captaincy does for you. Maybe that’s why Adam Gilchrist never really fancied the job. Mind you, it hasn’t worried Chris Gayle too much – he still only knows one way and it is that reputation that makes teams nervous. Just knowing that Gayle might go off is enough to put you off your game. Dhoni has that same power but it's been locked away for some time. Unleash the beast I say.......

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Arunkumar on (December 9, 2009, 10:53 GMT)

yes i like his smile all the time, even in failure. He shows a new path to Indian cricket as a one of the leading capataincy. His positive attitude and sence of belongingness makes great in all time.

Posted by Sanjay on (July 2, 2009, 16:27 GMT)

Absolutely true, we have seen batsmen and bowlers "born with talent". This guys is someone who was born with leadership qualities or at least his composure prompts me say this.

Posted by Angshuman on (June 24, 2009, 14:29 GMT)

Nice article. I could not find time to put up a blog post along these lines after India's elimination. I would hardly have been this good at analysing Dhoni's specialities. MSD's successful tactics from the past have largely been based on luck that some captains seem to be entitled to. But while he was lucky without being brave in some cases, he was also lucky for being brave in most cases. That should be good enough for a 2yr report card.

While in this tourney he wasn't particularly brave and set defensive batting orders, his responses before and after the tournament to media were quite revealing. It shows that he treats media like the guy on the road - in other words, he is not too bothered by what they are going to say about his acts. He may have lost the world cup but he must retain this approach if he is going to be the captain courageous of the past again. Shelf lives of captains are only as long as they can put off the headlines of tomorrow while making an on-field decisions

Posted by cricfollower on (June 24, 2009, 6:32 GMT)

Dhoni is the right man to build indian team for the future. We will become champions only if we win test,ODIseries against all oppositions everywhere which will happen eventually. Our young batsmen rohit,raina should apply themselves to envisage thought of playing for over a decade. Dhoni,Yuvraj,Gautam need time to find balance in their batting. They need to bring in more variety to their fast bowling,not just look for swing,also bowl fast and slow bouncers. Sreesanth could be brought back. Sachin and Sehwag comeback will only add more strength. The selectors should back players like Virat,Jadeja,Pujara,Tyagi,Chawla,Pandey. Once they get sufficient rest they will get back to winning ways.

Posted by vibhu on (June 24, 2009, 6:21 GMT)

Dhoni is the right man to build indian team for the future.We will become champions only if we win test,ODIseries against all oppositions everywhere which will happen eventually.Our young batsmen rohit,raina should apply themselves to envisage thought of playing for over a decade.Dhoni,Yuvraj,Gautam need time to find balance in their batting.They need to bring in more variety to their fast bowling,not just look for swing,also bowl fast and slow bouncers.Sreesanth could be brought back.Sachin and Sehwag comeback will only add more strength. The selectors should back players like Virat,Jadeja,Pujara,Tyagi,Chawla,Pandey.Once they get sufficient rest they will get back to winning ways.

Posted by Kinshuk on (June 24, 2009, 4:06 GMT)

i've seen some ppl saying that dhoni's had a free ride, tht criticizing him is ok b'coz its professional sport nd u either "perform or perish".... a free ride...a skipper with a more than 60 % win % over two years is not getting a free ride.....

nd all those comparing him with ganguly should go check ganguly's captaincy stats against test-playing sides.... it's revealing....there's a major drop in his win/loss ratio if u take out the bangladeshs nd the zimbabwes of the world frm his captaincy records....

dhoni's done a fine job..better than most of his predecessors... he should b given atleast a second chance (going by ppl's reactions it seems like we hv had gr8 results b4 dhoni took over!!!! :o...but even then he does deserve a second chance....doesn't he????)

Posted by Asif Sarfraz on (June 23, 2009, 21:28 GMT)

I think Dhoni is cool! Some bad decisions were made especially the game against England. I think they should not of dropped Irfan Pathan for Jadeja. I know Jadeja took wickets, but I believe Pathan would of done the same by taking wickets and making a bigger contribution with the bat! I agree with Arman Hashmi that there was a boasting of over confidence as well, for example, we will practice when we want to.

Posted by Chris on (June 23, 2009, 13:54 GMT)

I confess I'm not a fan, either of Dhoni the batsmen or Dhoni the captain. His batting is functional in that tediously modern way; he lacks real defensive mettle, and relies of placid pitches, enlarged bats and muscle to score runs.

As a captain, I fail to see what he actually does. He's neither as innovative as a Jardine or Brearley, nor as abrasiveas Ganguly, Waugh or Border. Beyond conventional field placings to suit conditions, his sole achievement is to pack the offside and have his seamers bowl a foot outside off-stump. Forgive me if I'm not overly impressed.

Posted by Arman Hashmi on (June 20, 2009, 8:50 GMT)

Well, I tend to disagree over here. It's Dhoni's leadership boasting of overconfidence which has lead them to an ouster-quite unprecedented in the History of Indian Cricket. There is definitely the IPL factor which has taken its toll on players. After playing the IPL the players probably started feeling as if the 'T20' flows from with-in and this is something which Dhoni has to work on real fast in order to get the team going once again-internal discords if any have to be dealt with sternly in the interest of the Indian Cricket.

Posted by Maninder on (June 20, 2009, 2:23 GMT)

Yaar more like Dhoni was good - he earned superstatus or glamour boy status only by being good and if he starts failing he has to drop down the latter and someone else will take over - this is India Yaarrrr you can be popular only when you perform and win as well - you take the glory and you have to learn to take the shit too - Ganguly suffered the same fate so why not Dhoni - perform and win or get out.............

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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