NEW DELHI: The old order is giving way, and MS Dhoni doesn’t want to be on the side of the fallen. The Captain Cool image seems to have run its course. Enter Captain Committed, a visibly pro-active, attacking and more involved Test skipper who seems to be reinventing himself at every turn.
The ultra-defensive leader who hid behind the shades and let things drift, or dismayed at his lack of resources, has suddenly done a vanishing act. With only Sachin Tendulkar remaining from the old guard and a host of names having retired or lost form, circumstances have forced Dhoni to discover a more urgent, inspiring manner in which to lead this young and vulnerable Indian cricket team.
Having been extremely lucky to survive eight consecutive away Test defeats and a home series loss to England, Dhoni seems to have finally taken Michael Jordan’s adage to heart: “Earn your leadership every day.” The results appear to be going his way too, as the first two Tests against Australia have shown. The awe-inspiring, game-changing double century in Chennai was another indication.
These days, Dhoni will berate a Murali Vijay for taking extra time to turn around and throw a ball from the outfield, instead of flicking it to the fielder behind him and saving an extra run.
He will tell Ravindra Jadeja which line to bowl, and jump high in the air with uncharacteristic excitement if his plan comes off. He will openly express his displeasure at Harbhajan Singh for playing an indiscreet shot or being hesitant while taking a run. With the bat, he seems to have taken a leaf out of the Michael Clarke book.
It’s all a far cry from the Dhoni who copped criticism just months back from experts and the public. Dhoni appeared jaded and uninterested as Team India crumbled around him. His body language came across as too nonchalant, as Shane Warne said.
Dhoni’s tactics were derided for being stale. His batting technique was dismissed as inadequate. His lack of ideas seemed to be hurting the team. It didn’t help that the other big names in the team were in decline, injured or retired.
Always a defensive Test skipper, in April 2010 Dhoni had suggested he made a conscious effort to appear calm. “It doesn’t help if I go and yell at the players,” he had said, “So I try and keep my emotions under check.”
Is he now making a conscious effort to appear animated, to project a more positive body language?
Social scientist and cricket buff Shiv Visvanathan says, “Dhoni appears systematic only in hindsight. It’s a fascinating study in leadership image. The only way Dhoni could survive in these changing times was by changing himself, or he would become a part of the old order. He appears a different man from the laidback skipper who led a team of stalwarts. ‘Captain Cool’ ended with India’s World Cup triumph. Now he is projecting a more committed self. He is a more pro-active batsman and leader. The likes of Ashwin and Pujara are performing well for him too. It has helped that Australia aren’t a good side in these conditions.”
As Sunil Gavaskar recently pointed out, “Dhoni has changed positively as captain. Now, if a player is not attentive or up to the mark, he is letting him know. Dhoni has recharged and is in great batting form.”
Former India opener Aakash Chopra says, “No Indian captain has survived the kind of failures Dhoni has. He now realizes that perception is more powerful than truth. ‘Captain Cool’ doesn’t work anymore. His laidback attitude attracted a lot of criticism. People would think he is being casual. We have seen the change since the Nagpur Test against England.
“Dhoni realized his job was on the line. Having a young team necessitates more involvement. That said, his real test will come abroad and one shouldn’t over-hype the wins against this Australian team. But it’s a good start for Dhoni.”
Of course, a change in attitude alone cannot win Test matches. Dhoni has to keep rallying his troops through tough sessions in a game and keep performing with the bat. More of an instinctive leader than a shrewd or tactical one, Dhoni must play to his strengths. Bigger tests lie in wait.