ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v Pakistan, World Cup 2011, Mohali
Dhoni's unnerving equilibrium
ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan Editor examines the Indian team and finds MS Dhoni a calm figure amid much machismo and aggression
March 29, 2011
The modern India is predominantly an India of stability, a point that can and often does get swamped by all the sound and fury of Indian cricket. Since Sourav Ganguly took over as captain in March 2000, India has had just four full-time captains for all formats. The more recent India is that of MS Dhoni, who has mostly kept his counsel and preferred to win matches rather than get involved in the screaming and shouting around him since 2007 when he took over as Twenty20 and ODI captain.
It sounds unremarkable but how Pakistan would love that kind of unremarkable, where the biggest controversy of the last four, five years has been that of a divisive coach, one that would struggle to make it to the back pages of most newspapers in Pakistan.
Since Ganguly took over, Pakistan has had nine full-time captains in all forms of the game. In the time that Dhoni has led India, they've had five alone. If India has been Dhoni's, Pakistan has been everyone's and, sadly, no one's. Currently it is Shahid Afridi's and it isn't a bad one. But it could be anyone's tomorrow: Misbah, Younis, Razzaq, Malik, Akmal even, who knows?
For many reasons to the outsider, Dhoni remains the most compelling personality in the Indian side, not just because of the way his game has become unrecognisable from what it was when he emerged. In the permanently overheated milieu in which he operates, where a haircut is a mass-spectator sport, he has not been seen celebrating topless at Lord's and he has not been so consumed by the job that he has had to relinquish it. Both Ganguly and Rahul Dravid had endearing qualities as captain but Dhoni's equilibrium is startling. It is actually unnerving.
Sure, there is probably much more to him than that. He is smart that much is certain, perhaps too smart, in the way we in the subcontinent might call him chaaloo and just the number of brands that piggyback off him is ludicrous. There is nothing wrong with that and none of it is actually important because the central point, from here, is that he is MS Dhoni, captain of India, and he has remained that way for some time and probably will do for sometime more.
He hasn't given up the captaincy, he's not been caught out spot-fixing. If he's had run-ins with the board, they haven't been big enough to change the status quo. If he's had problems with the players, they haven't been bad enough to inspire revolts. He has even managed to take most of the catches that have come his way. He is mostly unquestioned as captain, given the time and space to build a side, no matter whether it has been successful or not. Whether it has happened by design, or default, it has happened. If you know only chaos, stability soon acquires its own myth.
It may become harder in time of course, when time is called on possibly the greatest middle order the game has seen, but that is for another day. It is a fact that no Indian captain has been able to call upon as rich a bounty of talent as have the last few, and especially Dhoni.
When you have a man such as Virender Sehwag, for example, as your opening gambit in any game, half the game is often won. Sehwag has not just been a reminder of Pakistan's problems with openers but he has been a particularly insensitive and brutal one, each innings as abrupt and disorienting as a slap on the face. Few batsmen, maybe Brian Lara on occasion, have been as dismissive of Pakistan's pride - their fast bowlers - as Sehwag has; triples, doubles, big hundreds, all to go with some of the best sledges.
So Dhoni has led arguably the greatest Indian Test side - but not a great one - and an ODI side that hasn't progressed as much as it should have after early promise. It remains a formidable one particularly at home and it might yet win a World Cup. But the one thing that has held them back is the one thing that has sustained Pakistan over the years: a class fast bowler or two.
India has started producing some finally but they haven't yet worked out what to do with them. One from RP Singh, Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma should currently be much more than they actually are: forgotten, mad and underachieving, respectively. Some edge is missing. Maybe they are too pampered too soon, or over-coached. A little bit of struggle is never a bad thing for a fast bowler.
Still there has been Zaheer Khan, himself a tale of redemption fast bowlers can learn from. The comparisons with Wasim Akram are probably unfair to both, but a Zaheer spell is as compelling to witness as one from Mohammad Asif, where the real craft of fast bowling is obvious and apparent. Ball by ball a batsman is worked on, one this way, one that, one shorter, one a change of pace, one reversing, one not; the modern day batsman is such a protected and empowered brute that anytime he is made to look timid and embarrassed is a special moment. The one to get rid of Michael Hussey in the quarter-finals will stand among the deliveries of the tournament.
Now Indians are more like what they imagined Pakistanis to be in the 80s and 90s, in their long-haired, moustachioed pomp. Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Sreesanth, Gautam Gambhir are a different breed to the well-behaved, mild-mannered Clark Kents that mostly made up India in the 80s. Now there is attitude, aggression and square-ups.
But there doesn't seem the rawness. Somehow it seems manufactured because, the argument goes from Pakistan, if it was real it would naturally lead to a level of crazy only Pakistan have ever attained. Ganguly's aggression came from a natural place inside. For those who followed, the sense still can't be removed that where Pakistan used - and still use - that undirected energy and testosterone to win matches, here it is used to sell cola as well.
All except Dhoni who remains hinged. And still sells cola.
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