England v India, 3rd npower Test, Edgbaston August 9, 2011

How much more can Dhoni's body and mind take?

In the last two-and-a-half years the India captain has played almost non-stop, and the sure weight of work is finally showing in his performances

There are management gurus and researchers waiting to map MS Dhoni's brain so they can understand how India's most successful captain's mind works - how he manages to synchronise his thoughts into ideas and then into deeds. One of India's leading business schools wants to use the research as part of a neuromanagement course they plan to introduce. They might also try and find out, for research purposes, just how tired that brain is after the rigours and grind it has gone through since Dhoni became the leader of the Indian cricket team in all forms.

From 2009 till date Dhoni has played more top-level cricket (see sidebar) than any other cricketer, if you put the IPL and Champions League Twenty20 in that bracket. He has played 24 Tests, 61 ODIs, 16 Twenty20 internationals and 49 matches for Chennai Super Kings over three IPLs and a Champions League Twenty20. His closest contender in terms of workload is Kumar Sangakkara, who stepped down as Sri Lanka captain after the World Cup, and has logged 20 Tests, 61 ODIs, 24 Twenty20 internationals and 40 IPL games since 2009. Matt Prior might have played more international cricket than those two players - 33 Tests, 35 ODIs and five T20 internationals - but does not have the rigours of marquee Twenty20 tournaments to worry about.

If you further dissect Dhoni's schedule you wonder how the man has been able to continue walking, let alone squat, heave bats, keep a smile on his face while leading India to the No.1 position in Tests, lift gongs like the World Cup, the IPL title (twice) and the Champions League Twenty20.

Dhoni has the onerous task of leading four teams, which include so many players from different places, in three different formats, in addition to carrying out his wicketkeeping duties. A captain, a man-manager, a strategist, a wicketkeeper, a brand ambassador, a husband, a friend, an idol; Dhoni has to play all those roles convincingly, and at times, all at one go. Now you know the reason behind his increasing grey-hair count.

The trend is set to continue. India's schedule for the 12 months from May 2011 contains 125 days of work: 17 Tests, 36 ODIs and four Twenty20 internationals. In contrast, England play 12 Tests, 20 ODIs and eight Twenty20 internationals. With the BCCI reluctant to bench their most-marketable brand, Dhoni could either hope for a miracle or will be forced to call it quits in one of the formats.

It does not take an analyst to tell you that quantity can impact quality. This year, Dhoni has played in 21 international matches across all formats, and scored 472 runs with a top score of 91 not out, achieved in the World Cup final. In England so far his scores in the Tests read 28, 16, 5 and 0. In the tour match in Northampton he made just two runs before walking back in the face of taunts such as "Dhoni, what was that", having edged a half-hearted stroke to the wicketkeeper. Those figures seem ridiculous for someone who was once an impact player.

But India need Dhoni to stand strong and govern the lower order, which has been pathetic in comparison to England's. Dhoni feels the problem is more mental than technical. Men like Paddy Upton, India's mental conditioning coach during the years Gary Kirsten was coach, are confident about Dhoni's ability to bounce back.

"His workload is unbelievable and the level of performance he has delivered despite that is unbelievable" Upton says. "Dhoni is a warrior. Warriors don't complain. I certainly know there were times where he was fatigued but he soldiered on. He accepted what his responsibility was and also he probably realised the impact on other people. Dhoni would drop dead before he said he couldn't go on anymore."

It is easy to see that Dhoni is a bit distracted by the pressures of the ever-increasing-never-ending-workload. You can see him fluffing easy picks behind the wicket, which has also had an impact on the slip fielders. "I would imagine it is," Upton said about Dhoni being affected by the multiple roles he needs to perform efficiently. "But by the same token he will deliver. If anybody else had gone through what he has gone through their slump would have started a long time earlier and lasted a lot longer."

As for the mind-mapping gurus, they can only guess the vastness of the project they aim to undertake.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prashant on August 11, 2011, 13:37 GMT

    All, Dhoni never personally quoted tight schedule as an excuse. It was Upton here who's talking about it. None of the players have ever quoted that as an excuse. Some players said that it is infact very hectic but never as an excuse. These players are like everyone else. They pride themselves in being able to play for India. Don't question their commitment. Sometimes they fall out of line, but it's only human. They are as human as everyone else. Just back them when they need our backing the most. Don't pounce on them.

  • JIGNESH on August 11, 2011, 5:19 GMT

    Iyer, you are right. If Dhoni is tired from tight schedule, then he should rest it, and yes he did it in West Indies tour. Then why the hell he used tight schedule excuse? and if he wants more rest then be the guest and should go for it. These kind of people never complains about tight schedule in IPL where they make so much money playing more and more games. They rest during West Indies, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka tours because they don't like to go for shopping there. But countries like England, Australia or New Zealand, even if they are not in good form or fit they never rest because they have large amount of shopping opportunities in those countries. Most of them are millionaire and they don't like to buy the things what they are selling on the TV.

  • Prashant on August 10, 2011, 20:56 GMT

    @araams, please Dhoni is 1000 times better than Nasser Hussain. That isn't even a comparison. Whether people forget it or not, Dhoni is the best ever captain India has had. Ganguly is a close second. Obviously you do not know (or care) what it is like to be Dhoni or any Indian captain. Chances are, you aren't good at what you do, that's why you are unable to identify excellence.

  • Dummy4 on August 10, 2011, 15:50 GMT

    Good or a bad day...MS is a legend..Dhoni rocks foreva...this is just a start and I am pretty sure he will lead us for more victories ahead :)..Muaah MS :)

  • Rohan on August 10, 2011, 15:45 GMT

    dnt worry dhoni we r with u, u keep smiling and try your 100%, let people say whatever they want , U ROCKKKKKK MAHI......

  • Rohan on August 10, 2011, 15:41 GMT

    ia blame dhoni fr everything, what is sachin doing? though i'm an indian supporter, indian team surely dosnt desereves 2 b no.1, because of terrible bowling line up.....

  • Sarav on August 10, 2011, 15:04 GMT

    Commitment, he's one of the guys who really mean it.... Mark these words, he will be one of the guy would stand in the leagues of Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Kumble etc. Ups & Downs are always part & parcel of the game. Ppl would even blow away Sachin, Dhoni is not an exception at all :)

  • karthy on August 10, 2011, 12:50 GMT

    why criticise dhoni sachin is playing poorly,likewise gambir,laxman are.u guys name an indian wicketkeeper even from old days with the calibre of dhoni.how many of them atleast kept well leave alone their batting exploits.for guys critizing dhoni's captaincy he is the best in biz.want to recal what happened with sachin,dravid it wil b the same if u giv to gambir or some others.

  • El on August 10, 2011, 12:38 GMT

    Yeah, it must really be hard to play a sport for a living while making a fortune enough to buy an island of the coast of bahamas and then some.

    I once remember, someone asked Jose Mourinho how much pressure there is in football. Here is his reply, word for word.

    Pressure? What pressure? Pressure is poor people in the world trying to feed their families. Working from dawn till dust just to feed their young. There is no pressure in football.

    Go figure ....

  • Dummy4 on August 10, 2011, 12:14 GMT

    Nobody can comment on Dhoni's performance after reading this article. Now its very hard time for Dhoni. But has a captain Dhoni will surely bounce back and keep Indian Cricket in the Top position. So everyone please stop your negative comments and keep hope on one of the Most Successful Indian Captain.

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