Mahendra Singh Dhoni – The Boy Who Became King

“Trust isn’t given. It is earned” – Anonymous

March 23, 2016, WT20:
Indians are staring at elimination. On a benign surface, Bangladesh need 52 runs in 48 balls with plenty of wickets in the bank. This should be a cakewalk. This is normally the time when panic sets in for the fielding side. This is just about the time when shoulders slump on the field and eyes roll in the living rooms. But one look at the captain is all that is required to convince the players and fans alike, ‘All is well’.

12.1 overs:
Ashwin is brought on to bowl his last over, a gamble that has to be taken. Ashwin strikes first ball and the dangerous Shakib is sent back. Midas touch remains intact, even now, ever since 2007.

19.3 overs:
Mushfiqur Rahim paddles a length ball to the fine leg boundary and celebrates with Mahmadullah. Just a couple more runs are needed to send India home from their own party. Even though the writing is on the wall, the players haven’t given up hope,just yet.  In the past, in these scenarios, TV sets across the country are usually switched off. Not in India, not in Dhoni’s India. People watch on. It is never over until it’s over.

19.4 overs:
Mushfiqur Rahim loses his head and hoists another length ball down Dhawan’s throat. The Indians are alive, but only just.  Jadeja is moved from one end of the field to another. He is placed exactly at the same position where Dhawan just took the catch. Millions heave a sigh of relief.

19.5 overs:
A full toss ensues and Mahmudallah sends it high, but not long. Someone settles under the catch. Someone who was moved there just before that ball.  Jadeja coolly snaffles the chance. A pressure catch is taken by the team’s best fielder who was specifically directed there.

19.6 overs:
2 to win from the last ball, Pandya bowls a short ball outside off-stump and Shuvagata can’t touch it with his bat. The batsmen try scrambling for a bye. They have no chance because it is Dhoni who has the ball. He doesn’t throw it. He runs to the stumps, takes out the bails and Mustafizur Rahman is short. Indians are alive and kicking.

One glance at Facebook and Twitter feeds tells a story that has been in vogue for nine long years. Personnel had changed, but the commander never did. The nation had come to believe in him in a way reserved for no other captain who had come before. That is mainly due to him pulling off heist after heist, even when they seemed impossible.

To Indian fans from the nineties’ who have had so many of their evenings ruined by heartbreaking losses, Dhoni has been a godsend. An Indian fan sees his team needs 15 to win in 6 balls with just a wicket in hand and he then sees that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is on strike.  He isn’t nervous. Victory seems a foregone conclusion. This is TRUST.  This wasn’t built overnight. This trust was earned.

During India’s semi-final clash with Australia in the 2007 WT20, Ian Chappell made a remark on how Indian batsmen were playing a fearless brand of cricket, resembling their captain Dhoni’s persona. Mind you, that was Dhoni’s first assignment. The current Indian team does have an aggressive streak running through them but when under pressure, they are calmer than most other teams, especially during big games. Nothing illustrates this better than their performances in the ODI World Cups under Dhoni where they have lost just 2 matches under him. He had turned a team that often faltered in big games to a team that always brought it when it mattered most. This will remain as Dhoni’s greatest legacy.

Dhoni is hailed for being unperturbed by pressure. It isn’t the only notable feature. His ability to ‘seize the moment’ coupled with his zen-like calmness makes a lethal combination. In the same do-or- die match against Bangladesh, at a time when Indians were desperately in need of wickets, he threw the ball to Suresh Raina. Raina slipped one delivery down the leg side, Sabbir Rahman missed his attempted flick and for a split second, he overbalanced himself. That split second is what Dhoni needed to whip off the bails and Rahman was caught stranded. This is typical Dhoni – waiting for the slightest of openings and then ruthlessly exploiting it.

That is also typical of Dhoni’s limited-overs captaincy career. All he needs is for one ball to misbehave to call upon his assembly of spin bowlers and tie the opponents in knots. Remember Chepauk, remember Chennai Super Kings? And remember April 2, 2011? The biggest stage, the biggest game, World Cup in the balance, in stepped Dhoni. He didn’t just grab the bull by its horns; he was putting to rest the demons of ’96,’03 and ’07.

Given all the tournaments he has won as captain, given all the unusual press conferences and given that iconic bat twirl that signaled India’s second World Cup win, my enduring memory of his captaincy stint will be his celebrations after winning the Champions Trophy 2013 final.

It was a game that India had no business winning. It was a tournament that India had no business winning. In the aftermath of the IPL fixing scandal in 2013, in which Dhoni’s own franchise was under the scanner, India landed in England with a team that had very few backers.  Sri Lanka and Australia were dispatched in the warm-up games. South Africa came bouncing only to be tripped with ease. West Indies were left behind in a heap. Pakistanis were annihilated. Sri Lanka faced India again in the semi-finals only to be humbled again. In the final, the hosts almost halted the Indian juggernaut but India mounted a stirring defense of a modest total and ended up deserving champions. Even World Cup wins didn’t prompt Dhoni to react the way he did on that unforgettable evening.

He didn’t hold back. It was an unadulterated joy that shone through. It was pure ‘Mahi’. Now that he has relinquished his captaincy, his fans will be ready to give anything to see him grow his hair long, bludgeon sixes over covers and bring out his “gun-firing” celebrations.

The world has seen enough of Dhoni, maybe, just maybe, we are about to see the return of ‘Mahi’.

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