Captain Cool January 11, 2009

Stats but no story

Gulu Ezekiel's biography of Dhoni is a handy ready reckoner, but don't expect any insights into the book's subject

It may be received wisdom that sportspersons are best off not having their life story told, or telling it themselves, when they are still in their prime, but surely exceptions can be made for players like Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Since he broke onto the scene in 2005, Dhoni has biffed bowling attacks, solved India's once-perennial wicketkeeping problem, taken over the captaincy in all forms of the game, warmed hearts with his speeches and captivating smile, and in short transformed himself into an icon. And he's only 27.

Dhoni's story is one that will never fail to inspire. He stands at the epicentre of the influx of small-town boys into Indian cricket's mainstream. He is a hero to middle-class India, and his tale deserves to be known in comprehensive detail, though he may be only three years old on the international cricket.

Captain Cool: The MS Dhoni Story is perhaps the first biography of the cricketer to hit the stands. It is not authorised, and unfortunately Gulu Ezekiel's only interaction with the player seems to have been a conversation at the boundary edge during a Duleep Trophy game in Amritsar before he made it to the Indian team.

What shapes a biography, especially one where the writer has not had access to the subject, are inputs from the player's friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. There is very little evidence of those here. Dhoni has several to thank for his rise, including his parents; the generous proprietor of a local sports store in Ranchi who supplied him with equipment for free; his sports coach, who advised him to take up wicketkeeping instead of football goalkeeping; and many others. It would have been nice to hear their side of the story. His batting style, famously, does not come out of a coaching manual; reactions from those who oversaw his formative years would have been interesting.

Large parts of Captain Cool consist of summarised match reports, including those of some games that didn't involve Dhoni. The long introductions and backgrounds to the World Cup and the World Twenty20 give one the impression of reading an encyclopedia of cricket, with bits about the protagonist, Dhoni, somewhere in the middle. Ezekiel does justice to two of Dhoni's most important early knocks - his 148 against Pakistan and 183 not out against Sri Lanka. Again, however, the lack of inputs from the player himself, especially about some of his intriguing and instinctive captaincy moves during the ICC World Twenty20 final and the CB Series finals, takes away from the accounts of those games. One comes away wishing certain chapters, like the ones on Dhoni's early years, were documented in greater detail, at the expense of some of the descriptions of matches.

The most notable feature of this book is that it's loaded with stats and can serve as a ready reckoner on Dhoni's achievements, including those in his CK Nayudu- and Cooch Behar-tournament days. The prose is measured and fluent, and Ezekiel's uncomplicated style makes the book a swift read.

As Ezekiel concludes: "It has been a long journey from Ranchi to superstardom but there are still many miles to go before he can be considered a true legend of the game." True, there should be plenty of achievements to look forward to, and Dhoni may well pen them down in his own words someday. This book, unfortunately, is by no means the definitive account of the man behind the superstar image. Given his prodigious achievements, he deserves better.

Captain Cool: The MS Dhoni Story
by Gulu Ezekiel
Eastwest Books, Rs 150

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo