England v India, Champions Trophy, final, Edgbaston June 22, 2013

Iceman Dhoni keeps pressure at bay

Many different players have been involved in India's most recent two global successes, but there is one constant in their calm and composed captain
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MS Dhoni walked into the media conference at Edgbaston with his smart phone in hand. Leading into and out of the briefing, he was engrossed in playing a video game. He had a calm and happy demeanour throughout. It is also the image that Dhoni carries onto the field. His ability to keep a clear head at moments when the stakes are the highest is what has elevated Dhoni to being one of the best leaders in the game.

On Sunday, Dhoni will walk into his third final of an ICC event. In the previous two, India won the title - the 2007 World Twenty20 and the 2011 World Cup. On both occasions Dhoni's role was decisive. The match-winners were different in these two events, but Dhoni has remained a constant. And throughout these years he has pretty much remained the same: making his voice heard only when there has been a need, otherwise enjoying his own space, insulated by the events around him.

The one change that has become increasingly visible is that Dhoni has become more vocal in expressing his unhappiness if a player is not doing his job properly as well as more public in his appraisal if a player does anything extraordinary. In the semi-final against Sri Lanka, Rohit Sharma, standing at point, was casual in letting go a late cut from Mahela Jayawardene. At the most it was single but the Sri Lanka batsmen ran three. Dhoni was livid at Rohit's mistake as he punched his gloved hands in disgust.

It was the same Rohit who had got a pat on his back from his captain in the group match at The Oval when, standing this time at backward point, he had thrown himself to his right to cut short a powerful square cut from Darren Bravo and deny him a certain four. Dhoni was happy to go the distance to compliment his player.

A good leader makes a good team. He also guards the team in the time of crisis. Take Australia. In the absence of Michael Clarke, they made an early exit, and were in the news for all the wrong reasons. A stable captain can lend direction to the team. Angelo Mathews could not explain why Sri Lanka continue to fail against India in the knockouts.

Obviously Dhoni is not the perfect captain, both as a strategist and especially while communicating with the media, who he has always looked at with suspicion for various reasons. Equally, his silence or reluctance to speak on important matters has created a deep chasm between him and the press. But that does not matter to Dhoni. His muted response to all queries on arrival in England, and before departing India, about the corruption issues surrounding players and team owners in the IPL was criticised widely by all media.

But that is where Dhoni's strengths as a leader come to the fore. He is ready to absorb all criticism and shield his team from all unnecessary distractions. He does not mind people making judgements because he is not going to be answer them. At every media briefing this tournament, he has maintained that the team's goal is to improve with every match and every net session. He made it clear that Vision 2015 had not yet started. The focus, he pointed out, has been always on the present.

More than anyone else in the India team, Alastair Cook's England will single out Dhoni as the biggest threat. It does not matter that Dhoni has hardly batted this tournament. Even in the 2011 World Cup, Dhoni had gone without a fifty in the previous seven matches before the final. There, against Sri Lanka, Dhoni promoted himself above Yuvraj Singh, the player of the World Cup, and hit a deafening 91, finishing with a walloping, iconic six.

On Saturday afternoon, minutes before Dhoni arrived for the media briefing, the British and Irish Lions had pulled off a spine-tingling victory against the Wallabies in the rugby Test series in Brisbane. Kurtley Beale suffered nerves and messed up two penalty kicks. The second one, from 46 metres, came barely 30 seconds before the final whistle. If Beale had kicked successfully, glory would have been Australia's as they would have bounced back to win the Test by a point. Instead they lost by two points as Beale slipped even before he kicked. Precarious moments. If you succeed you cross a milestone. If you fail, it becomes a millstone around your neck.

Dhoni has encountered numerous such moments in his life. One reason he has not slipped is because he can insulate himself from intense pressure. The other reason he has survived them is because he has never looked too far ahead. His message has always been to stay in the moment. A final of a world tournament is a high-pressure zone. More than anyone in the team, the captain needs to have a clear head. Dhoni has one.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Unconstitutional_PCB_Chief on June 23, 2013, 4:33 GMT

    MS Dhoni's successful captainship definitely deserves applause without any doubt. From Ganguly to Dhoni it is one of the most successful captainship hands off Indian cricket fan, and followers around the world have witnessed; any team would dream this kind of hand off. Captaining India for the successful triumph of the World Cup 2011 and now into the 2013 Champions Trophy Final, these are remarkable achievements already. Keep in mind MS Dhoni also occupies the crucial wicket keeping position on merit in the Indian team, which we kind of overlook due to his captainship responsibilities. Not only that he is fully capable of opening the inning, and successfully executed as an opener many times against various pace attack. With MS Dhoni's remarkable achievement and his multidimensional cricketing abilities, he is a true asset for the Indian team. Teams around the World would be proud have MS Dhoni in their playing eleven.

  • on June 22, 2013, 19:32 GMT

    Ice cool Dhoni is the best thing that could have happened to indian cricket team after it was built into agressive, competent unit by the hot blooded dada- Sourav Ganguly.... Both of them have contributed immensely to the indian cricket... This team has come a long way from Pre 2000 era where it was so much dependent on Sachin Tendulkar who himself buckled under pressure when such major tournaments reached the knock out phases, explaining why india didn't win any major tournament in that period... Clearly the current crop of players are fighetrs capable of taking any opposition head on.... Good job Dada.... Good job Mahi....

  • on June 23, 2013, 13:27 GMT

    This article is a fantastic tribute to Dhoni.I had never seen in all my years of watching cricket a man who is as mentally evolved as him.In fact I had never come across a guy like him in any other walks of like. How can this man remain so intensely calm?The best attribute of Dhoni is his ability to absorb pressure during defeats.When India lost the test series in Australia the whole world wants his head . Yet he remained unnervingly calm.He did not fear losing the captaincy.This man has no fears either.Similarly when India blanked the Aussies 4-0 in home, the man did not go crazy either.As the article rightly states he may not be the best strategist.But what sets him apart is his ability to motivate the team to perform by showing his inner strength.

    India is blessed to have a leader like him.

  • on June 23, 2013, 12:40 GMT

    Well written article. As an MSD fan and an India supporter, it's a prud feeling to know that we have able leaders to take the sport we worship to the next level. Look forward to an intense final! :)

  • on June 23, 2013, 12:37 GMT

    Atlast England got a chance to lift a cup. Thanks to the rain. Unlike India, they were very bad against other countries. Still they get to hold the cup although they don't deserve it

  • on June 23, 2013, 8:51 GMT

    The same old story again - Dhoni, the cool head. Come on!! Write something new.

  • Allanwilliams23 on June 23, 2013, 8:50 GMT

    Great job Dhoni & Team keep it up

  • ravi-1967 on June 23, 2013, 7:56 GMT

    A very cool level header guy. Does not speak unnecessarity, does not show emotions and is very clear (no clouding of thought). Hope India wins thia and Dhoni would be the first captain to have lifted all the major Limited Trophies. Only Ponting has done Champions and ODI World Cup.

    COme one team india do this for Dhoni.

  • PeterJerome on June 23, 2013, 6:21 GMT

    More than Cricket, Mr. Dhoni, should seriously consider joining politics on retirement. Our country needs level headed leaders like him. My comment would perhaps be a laughing stock for quite a few, surely the inactive ones. Will cricinfo publish this?

  • on June 23, 2013, 5:08 GMT

    Leave captaincy, talk of his batting in one dayers....... he is in the list of top 8 icc players since last 6 years, and hasnt been removed....... most of the time he was inside 5........ ths is called consistency....... We all have faith now, hat if anything goes wrong Dhoni is there as a batsman to get the things right......

  • Unconstitutional_PCB_Chief on June 23, 2013, 4:33 GMT

    MS Dhoni's successful captainship definitely deserves applause without any doubt. From Ganguly to Dhoni it is one of the most successful captainship hands off Indian cricket fan, and followers around the world have witnessed; any team would dream this kind of hand off. Captaining India for the successful triumph of the World Cup 2011 and now into the 2013 Champions Trophy Final, these are remarkable achievements already. Keep in mind MS Dhoni also occupies the crucial wicket keeping position on merit in the Indian team, which we kind of overlook due to his captainship responsibilities. Not only that he is fully capable of opening the inning, and successfully executed as an opener many times against various pace attack. With MS Dhoni's remarkable achievement and his multidimensional cricketing abilities, he is a true asset for the Indian team. Teams around the World would be proud have MS Dhoni in their playing eleven.

  • on June 22, 2013, 19:32 GMT

    Ice cool Dhoni is the best thing that could have happened to indian cricket team after it was built into agressive, competent unit by the hot blooded dada- Sourav Ganguly.... Both of them have contributed immensely to the indian cricket... This team has come a long way from Pre 2000 era where it was so much dependent on Sachin Tendulkar who himself buckled under pressure when such major tournaments reached the knock out phases, explaining why india didn't win any major tournament in that period... Clearly the current crop of players are fighetrs capable of taking any opposition head on.... Good job Dada.... Good job Mahi....

  • on June 23, 2013, 13:27 GMT

    This article is a fantastic tribute to Dhoni.I had never seen in all my years of watching cricket a man who is as mentally evolved as him.In fact I had never come across a guy like him in any other walks of like. How can this man remain so intensely calm?The best attribute of Dhoni is his ability to absorb pressure during defeats.When India lost the test series in Australia the whole world wants his head . Yet he remained unnervingly calm.He did not fear losing the captaincy.This man has no fears either.Similarly when India blanked the Aussies 4-0 in home, the man did not go crazy either.As the article rightly states he may not be the best strategist.But what sets him apart is his ability to motivate the team to perform by showing his inner strength.

    India is blessed to have a leader like him.

  • on June 23, 2013, 12:40 GMT

    Well written article. As an MSD fan and an India supporter, it's a prud feeling to know that we have able leaders to take the sport we worship to the next level. Look forward to an intense final! :)

  • on June 23, 2013, 12:37 GMT

    Atlast England got a chance to lift a cup. Thanks to the rain. Unlike India, they were very bad against other countries. Still they get to hold the cup although they don't deserve it

  • on June 23, 2013, 8:51 GMT

    The same old story again - Dhoni, the cool head. Come on!! Write something new.

  • Allanwilliams23 on June 23, 2013, 8:50 GMT

    Great job Dhoni & Team keep it up

  • ravi-1967 on June 23, 2013, 7:56 GMT

    A very cool level header guy. Does not speak unnecessarity, does not show emotions and is very clear (no clouding of thought). Hope India wins thia and Dhoni would be the first captain to have lifted all the major Limited Trophies. Only Ponting has done Champions and ODI World Cup.

    COme one team india do this for Dhoni.

  • PeterJerome on June 23, 2013, 6:21 GMT

    More than Cricket, Mr. Dhoni, should seriously consider joining politics on retirement. Our country needs level headed leaders like him. My comment would perhaps be a laughing stock for quite a few, surely the inactive ones. Will cricinfo publish this?

  • on June 23, 2013, 5:08 GMT

    Leave captaincy, talk of his batting in one dayers....... he is in the list of top 8 icc players since last 6 years, and hasnt been removed....... most of the time he was inside 5........ ths is called consistency....... We all have faith now, hat if anything goes wrong Dhoni is there as a batsman to get the things right......

  • maddy20 on June 23, 2013, 4:26 GMT

    @Steve Back What do you want to do? Appreciate him for getting hammered and slander him when he is winning? Reacting to the team's performance is only natural, be it the media or the people(I still remember the English fans' reactions after being hammered in the 2007 ashes, the same team that won them the 2005 ashes)! I have seen many people draw strength from criticism and Dhoni is certainly one of them!

  • on June 23, 2013, 4:21 GMT

    All the best Dhoni!! :) I think this is the best we have played or in other terms hv clicked well together as a team since 2011 WC.

    Dhoni is confident (hence backs his instincts),level headed(knows there would be good days and bad days) , can read the situation well and has a calming influence on the team..his attitudes like confidence rubs on to his team mates as well.He wont let the energies of his players drop on the field. India is really blessed to have his captaincy.

  • BGKrishnan on June 23, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    Dhoni and media. Who should strive for relationship with whom? Dhoni has a job to do as a cricketer and captain for India. That's his job. The media has a job to do and that is to report on events. Dhone makes the events. The media reports it. If the media does not have great relations with Dhoni, the media is doing a bad job, not Dhoni. He is doing his job supremely well. The media has an inflated sense of its own importance and has put a premium on people bowing to its badgering ways. Dhoni has read through this and has shown up the media. The media must show the same humility they expect of others. Why should Dhoni be asked questions about corruption in the BCCI? Is he running the BCCI? He was on the eve of a major tournament and the media didn't think about asking him questions that were irrelevant to the tour and when he handled it with silence, went to town criticising him. He doesn't owe the media an explanation for anything other than his job.

  • on June 23, 2013, 3:04 GMT

    I like the new Android app.. Its awesome

  • TheShawshankRedemption on June 23, 2013, 2:38 GMT

    Dhoni should give speech in IIM's (premier b schools in India). Really. The way he handles the team more than his strategy has been brilliant. I have never liked his team selections but the way he maneuvers with them is awesome. He really is a lesson to be learnt (like it or not).

  • on June 23, 2013, 1:50 GMT

    Guys, how are you measuring Test Captaincy ..You need 4 genuine bowlers to take 20 wickets on any wicket. Of late India dont have that luxury.If MSD would have got Anderson, Dale Steyn in his team he would be winning more tests.Tests are won by Bowlers...Not much a captain can do about it !

  • on June 23, 2013, 0:48 GMT

    Good luck tomorrow India

  • ashok16 on June 22, 2013, 23:43 GMT

    Dhoni is a tremendously powerful wicket keeper batsman and best Indian to occupy that position and probably the second best modern wicket keeper. His captaincy is over-rated. He is not bringing a mediocre team to life, the group under him now is pretty talented and hardworking. The taint of 8-0 is not going to disappear that fast. About his only skill as a captain is his ability to keep his mouth shut. That doesn't make him a great captain.

  • huffpost on June 22, 2013, 23:42 GMT

    No wonder he is among the world's best paid sportsmen..congrats MS on getting to 15 th place on the list..he is ahead of many of the American stars and European soccer stars...that's really something great and you make every Indian proud....

  • on June 22, 2013, 23:40 GMT

    Dhoni's always had his share of admirers every time he has won and his share of haters when India's done miserably. The thing that's always made a difference is how much he cares about any of that.

  • Sentryman101 on June 22, 2013, 22:48 GMT

    Dhoni is an absolutely fabulous leader - no doubt but only second to Kapil Dev. Kapil was and always will be the man who made a nation believe in itself (Not just in cricket but in general)

  • on June 22, 2013, 22:47 GMT

    It's funny how Indian fans and neutral onlookers were calling for MS Dhoni's head during their 8-0 run of Test defeats and baiting for his sacking after their home series loss against England, and now all of a sudden he's a hero again. Strange.

  • IndCricFan2013 on June 22, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    Dhoni has been growing beard, is he going to shaving the head after winning the Cup, like he did after world cup 2011??? Or he is going to come cleaned for the match? The team is doing too good that, need to find things to talk about!!!

  • on June 22, 2013, 20:49 GMT

    One of the best writing have seen in a long time. The writer of this piece - I am a fan!

  • WeeBee on June 22, 2013, 19:02 GMT

    I really admire Dhoni for he has done for Indian Cricket! Who can replace him? or who will replace him?

  • Viv-Viru on June 22, 2013, 19:01 GMT

    India is consistent, at or near the top of world rankings and improving, and CSK is consistent and dominating. Openers in both teams provide solid starts, bowlers do their magic, and fielders compete with the best in the world. And when India or CSK wins (often enough) there is one person you don't see much in the fore front celebrations. That is Dhoni.

  • YogifromNY on June 22, 2013, 18:54 GMT

    Someone could do some day do a business school case study on leadership by profiling Dhoni and examining his life. Outstanding leader of men and a man feared by foes on the cricket field. It is not just all muscle and brawn: he has grace too - I remember how he asked Ganguly to lead the test team for an afternoon in Dada's final test. Obviously, he has his weaknesses, and he is not as great a captain in Tests as in ODIs and T20s, where he is outstanding. Well-written article, Nagaraj!

  • Alexk400 on June 22, 2013, 18:03 GMT

    Dhoni is team india. If you remove dhoni , india is bunch of players who does well in club tournaments.

  • on June 22, 2013, 17:49 GMT

    And yes, he is the Captain Cool..!!!

  • on June 22, 2013, 17:43 GMT

    Well said. Dhoni has the unique quality to keep himself unaffected from the outside pressure to produce great results for Team India.

  • on June 22, 2013, 17:43 GMT

    Well said. Dhoni has the unique quality to keep himself unaffected from the outside pressure to produce great results for Team India.

  • on June 22, 2013, 17:49 GMT

    And yes, he is the Captain Cool..!!!

  • Alexk400 on June 22, 2013, 18:03 GMT

    Dhoni is team india. If you remove dhoni , india is bunch of players who does well in club tournaments.

  • YogifromNY on June 22, 2013, 18:54 GMT

    Someone could do some day do a business school case study on leadership by profiling Dhoni and examining his life. Outstanding leader of men and a man feared by foes on the cricket field. It is not just all muscle and brawn: he has grace too - I remember how he asked Ganguly to lead the test team for an afternoon in Dada's final test. Obviously, he has his weaknesses, and he is not as great a captain in Tests as in ODIs and T20s, where he is outstanding. Well-written article, Nagaraj!

  • Viv-Viru on June 22, 2013, 19:01 GMT

    India is consistent, at or near the top of world rankings and improving, and CSK is consistent and dominating. Openers in both teams provide solid starts, bowlers do their magic, and fielders compete with the best in the world. And when India or CSK wins (often enough) there is one person you don't see much in the fore front celebrations. That is Dhoni.

  • WeeBee on June 22, 2013, 19:02 GMT

    I really admire Dhoni for he has done for Indian Cricket! Who can replace him? or who will replace him?

  • on June 22, 2013, 20:49 GMT

    One of the best writing have seen in a long time. The writer of this piece - I am a fan!

  • IndCricFan2013 on June 22, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    Dhoni has been growing beard, is he going to shaving the head after winning the Cup, like he did after world cup 2011??? Or he is going to come cleaned for the match? The team is doing too good that, need to find things to talk about!!!

  • on June 22, 2013, 22:47 GMT

    It's funny how Indian fans and neutral onlookers were calling for MS Dhoni's head during their 8-0 run of Test defeats and baiting for his sacking after their home series loss against England, and now all of a sudden he's a hero again. Strange.

  • Sentryman101 on June 22, 2013, 22:48 GMT

    Dhoni is an absolutely fabulous leader - no doubt but only second to Kapil Dev. Kapil was and always will be the man who made a nation believe in itself (Not just in cricket but in general)