'I love being in the present'

The Indian captain talks about the emotional and pressure-laden World Cup win, switching off from the game, his future one-day plans, and more

Interview by Rajdeep Sardesai
In his first one-on-one interview since winning the World Cup, MS Dhoni spoke to CNN-IBN, after winning their award for the Indian of the Year: Sports. Excerpts from the interview.
This has been a remarkable year for you. Did you feel at the start of 2011 that by the end of the year you would be a World Cup champion? Honestly?
It was a difficult task ahead of us. Most of the people in India thought we would win the World Cup because we are hosting it. If you see the stats you see that the host country had never won the World Cup before this edition. There was a fair amount of pressure on the players but we were more worried about the fitness. We knew if the 15 that got selected, if all of them are available, and if they play to the kind of potential they have, we would win the World Cup. But it [the pressure] keeps on mounting.
I still remember playing the Australia quarter-final. People thought that was the biggest game when it came to the World Cup. Then it was Pakistan in the semi-final. I remember travelling and people were like, "Win this game and we don't care about the finals." As soon as we won the semi-final, it was like, "You have to win this because it doesn't matter what you've done. If you don't win the final it won't be really nice." So I think there was pressure, which was the ultimate thing.
I never saw the pressure on your face. All these months, even in bad times, in England, you didn't seem to feel the pressure. What is it? Do you do yoga? Meditation? I often wonder if you practise Buddhism.
I don't practise any of the above things. I love to be in the moment, I love to analyse things a bit. Very often what is important is to realise what went wrong, not only when you are losing a series or a game, but also when you are winning a series; when you need to realise which are the areas [you] need to work on. And especially, if you see the England series, losing players at crucial times - it never really went our way. Losing Zaheer Khan in the first game, Bhajji went out in the second, Gautam [Gambhir] getting injured in the first game, not being available in the second. All these things mattered. Of course we could have done slightly better. We were in positions in the Tests where the game was slightly in our favour, but without the explosive power you need to tame a side like England, it is a bit difficult.
The moment we all lived for was to win the World Cup, and there was a moment when you hit a six to win the World Cup - you twirled your bat, and for the first time I saw emotion on your face. Was it just all those days and weeks where you had kept it under, that you said, "I have achieved it"? For the first time, I saw you really explode.
It was one of the biggest things for us as Indian cricketers, you know. We are playing at the top level. We all want to be part of a World Cup-winning side. The last time we won the proper 50-over version was 28 years back. So most of the people [in the] side wanted to win the World Cup, and as soon as we got into a position where we saw the World Cup coming into our dressing room, emotions started to flow. If you see, before the post-match presentation, almost every player cried…
Did you cry?
Yes, I did. You don't have footage of that. It's very difficult to control an emotion like that. I was controlling [myself]. I wanted to quickly go up to the dressing room, and I saw two of my players crying and running to me. All of a sudden, I started crying, and I looked up and there was a huddle around me. It just so happened that you don't have footage of it - you just see me coming up and doing that (wipes his eye). And each and every one cried.
You started off in Ranchi and you have achieved this. Has it been a difficult journey or has it been that you always felt… that you would be CNN-IBN Indian of the Year, win all these awards? That one day you would be the most recognised face in India. Has it been a difficult journey?
I love being in the present. When I was playing for my school, the only thing I wanted to do was get selected for the Under-16 or the Under-19 district teams. When I was selected for the district I would think about the next level, which was getting selected for the state side. I'm a person who lives very in the moment. Frankly, I never thought that I would represent my country one day. Now I'm leading my country, so it's like a fairytale. I never thought I'd do all these things. I lived in the moment, I kept working hard. I never expected to get a call for the Indian cricket team in the very next meeting.
"I love to go back to Ranchi. I have three dogs at home. Even after losing a series or winning a series, they treat me the same way. Getting up quite late in the morning, going to clean my bikes, spending some time with my family, my parents and friends, going out for rides with my friends and having lunch or dinner at a roadside hotel - that's my favourite time-pass"
I said, wherever they select me, whatever they select me for, I will go there and try to do my best and put pressure on the selectors to select me. So I was never disappointed when I didn't get selected for India A or the India team.
Do you owe this to someone? Is there one person that you would say is responsible for making MS Dhoni who he is today?
There are lots of people - because every small thing really counts. Of course, my parents never being against the sport. Time management was very important, and four to six was the time I used to play in winters. Summer, the days being longer, you could play for a bit longer. They never told me not to play or not to enjoy the sport. That was the crucial period, because if there was any stoppage from my parents, that would have been very difficult. So, parents, I think, are very special.
And each and every friend who helped me go through the bad phases in life.
You got married last year and became the world champion. What was more difficult? Winning the World Cup or getting married?
I think both of them are quite difficult to do. Because, all of a sudden you have someone in your life who lives with you 24 hours and you have to adjust to her and she needs to adjust to your kind of living. And I think the first six months goes by trying to understand each other a bit better. Being girlfriend and boyfriend, okay, you are [talking on] the phone for most of the time, but being together for 24 hours, you have to change your lifestyle.
How do you handle this pressure of cricket? What do you do to keep away from this pressure? Do you just not think of cricket when you are not playing the game?
Well, that's what I do. I like to stay away from the game when I am not playing it. Of course, there has hardly been any break between series. We have been kept busy.
That is also a good thing. We go back home for seven or eight days, and after three-four days we realise, "Oh, we are missing something." Cricket has been a big part of our life.
And what do you do at home? I've often wondered how you relax at home.
I love to go back to Ranchi. I have three dogs at home. The best thing is that [whether I win a series or lose one], they treat me the same way. They greet me in the same way. That really relaxes me. Getting up quite late in the morning, going and trying to clean my bikes - I have quite a few of them in Ranchi - spending some time with my family, my parents and friends. Going out for rides with my friends and having lunch or dinner at a roadside hotel - that's my favourite time-pass. These are the sort of things that really excite me.
Was there a moment in the World Cup that you realised as a captain that you can win the cup? When did you first feel "I have a team that can win this World Cup"? There were a few moments in the early rounds when it looked as if we might struggle a bit.
Well, we always had the kind of self-belief needed, because we have been playing good cricket in the last two- two and a half years, in either format. Our biggest worry was, like I said, the injuries list. With the kind of breaks that we have between two games, I thought we can manage with minor injuries. People having a few niggles can be 70-80% fit and be available for the next game. That was a worry, that if somebody gets injured in a big way, it can be a factor that could really restrict us in the World Cup.
The shots you play are unique but there is one shot people call it the helicopter shot - did you practise it as a young boy in Jharkhand when you were 16? Or is this a shot you have evolved over the years or does it just come naturally to you?
I used to play a lot of tennis-ball cricket. [We would] play on a 16- to 18-yard wicket with a lawn-tennis ball, and most of the time the bowler tried to push in a yorker. That was the kind of shot you needed to hit for a six, because in tennis-ball, you don't have to middle it. Even if you are using the bottom-most part of the bat and if you hit it quite well, it always goes over the boundary.
You are making it sound very easy but to hit a a yorker for a six in the manner in which you do is not easy. So did you practise the shot in tennis-ball cricket or is it something you've become better at over the years?
I think I became better. I never practised it. I used to use it in the games. And not to forget, I've quite often hit my left ankle doing that. Over the years you get better and better and I've seen a few other people trying to copy it, you know, and hitting their left ankle, and I'm like, "Okay don't worry, I also started like that."
You keep, you bat, you captain. Have you ever felt tired in 2011? That enough is enough, I'm going with my wife to Ladakh or somewhere for one month, away from cricket? Have you ever thought, "Let me take a break from this game for one month"?
At times you feel tired. Again, what's important is that you can push your body. Unless you're mentally tired, I don't think you really need a break. And even if I was really tired, I don't think I [have been] in a position where I could take a break, because our senior players were missing because of injuries or some other things that happened. If there are players, senior players, who are there to play in the next series, and then if you take a break, it is fair enough. But if you see the last few series, we have missed most of our senior players. So you have to see the strength that the team has. And if the team needs me most right now, I don't mind playing a few more series before taking a break.
You've achieved it all: you've won the World T20 title, you've won the Champions League, the IPL and now the World Cup. Is there one dream still left for you in the game? Is there some ambition, some Mount Everest you still want to conquer?
Well, why not do it all over again? If you don't really have a dream, you can't really push yourself, you don't really know what the target is. I think it is very important to stay focused, have short-term goals, not look too much in the future, and try to win each and every series that is coming. Of course, you won't be able to do that. But it is important that you prepare yourself in that way and try to give your best on the field.
"It's very important to realise at the right time what you are good at, whether you're good at cricket or any other sport or at studies. If you are good at studies and you want to play cricket, you may work harder than any other person but you may not achieve it. So it's something you have to balance in life"
So 2015 is the next goal - the World Cup? The last one we won in '83 and then for 28 years we waited - from Kapil Dev - for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to arrive. So is 2015 a goal? Or is it series by series, tournament by tournament, match by match?
It is series by series. If you see 2015, you know, still three, three and a half years to go. I don't really know where I will stand. Everything needs to go off well, and then by close to 2013, I will have to take a call whether I can really 100% be available for the 2015 World Cup, because you don't want a wicketkeeper in the side who has not played at least 100-odd games, at least close to 80-100 games, going into the World Cup. So that's a call that needs to be taken. But if everything goes off well, 2013 end will be the time where we will have to carefully study the body and see what can be done.
You seem to have mastered the art particularly of one-day cricket. Against England you didn't even get out this year, match after match. Is that something you've worked out - that there is a way you play and you've decided that's the way you're going to play?
Batting at No. 6 or No. 7, it's a very crucial spot, and it's very difficult to consistently do well. That's why I have regard for Yuvraj Singh. Most of the time he batted at No. 6 and consistently scored runs for the Indian team. I think it's a crucial position, and also, what happens is, you give a youngster a chance to bat at No. 3 or No. 4 so he gets groomed under the senior cricketers. And there comes a time when I will say, "Okay, no, the next six months or half the year, I'd like to bat up the order and you guys come down the order and take the responsibility". Because at the end of the day they will have to learn how to bat at No. 6 so that the coming youngster bats at No. 3 or 4.
You've played with the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Yuvraj, Sehwag, Ganguly earlier, and yet you've gone on to captain them. Have you ever felt, "I'm captaining Sachin, all these big players"? You seemed a natural leader of men. Were you someone who was the boss, the gang leader from childhood? Have you always been a leader of people?
Never, really, because I was very a shy kid, and the first time I captained was very late in my career. Very late means I was playing maybe U-19 or something like that. And I never had a fair amount of exposure when it came to leadership.
I felt it's always important not to think whom you are leading. More important is what needs to be done, and to channelise the kind of resources you have to accomplish the target, to be successful at what you are supposed to achieve.
There are thousands of youngsters who want to be Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who idolise you, who want to be like you. What would you like to tell those young people?
I think keeping it simple is very important. Of course, working hard, because I don't feel there is any shortcut. You can have a bit of luck on your side. But it's very important to realise at the right time what you are good at, whether you're good at cricket or any other sport or at studies. If you are good at studies and you want to play cricket, you may work harder than any other person but you may not achieve it. So it's something you have to balance in life, and be practical where you are good and then channelise your efforts in the right direction to be successful in life.
We all have heroes. Does Mahendra Singh Dhoni have a hero, someone who inspires him?
Well, that's a very difficult one. There's someone like Sachin Tendulkar, who is a part of the side, whom most of the individual cricketers look up to. And not to forget Amitabh Bachchan, who has been the biggest thing when it comes to Bollywood, and he is known the world over. So if you look at him, still, at his age, he is working and being among the best. So these are the two people who are ideal role models, who have struggled through their phases in life and yet come out successful. The best thing is that they are very humble and grounded, which I think is very important to be a successful person.

Rajdeep Sardesai is editor-in-chief of the CNN-IBN18 network