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How MS Dhoni galvanised a young India into world-beaters

MS Dhoni, 2007 T20 WC
by Ed Davis 4 minute read

“A bit flash; too much haircut, not enough square cut” – were the talks going around the cricketing world when MS Dhoni was appointed to lead India at the inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup in 2007. Ed David tells us how the Jharkhand lad proved everyone wrong.

First published in 2007

There are few positions in sport that carry a greater weight of expectation than the captain of India. It is a task that has scarred the great and good of Indian cricket: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid have all carried the burden of a nation’s passion for a time. Each was undoubtedly proud to do so and gave their very utmost for the cause. None of them looked like they were having much fun whilst doing it. But during the World Twenty20 Tournament, Mahendra Singh Dhoni not only led his young and unfancied side to glory, but looked cheerful, composed and quite impossibly cool whilst doing so.

India entered the tournament on the back of a hugely disappointing World Cup and a 4-3 defeat in the one-day series against England. Without the great batting quartet of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and VVS Laxman, plus the seam bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan, and leading the nation most reluctant to embrace the 20-over format, the freshly appointed Dhoni was seemingly on a hiding to nothing. But he took this potentially poisoned chalice and from it concocted a potent cocktail.

We’ve long been aware that the boy can play. His extravagant strokeplay, athleticism and dashing Bollywood looks have already made him the darling of the fans. But leadership material? Pundits scoffed. A bit flash they said; too much haircut, not enough square cut.

Boy, did he prove them wrong. He scored vital runs throughout the tournament, finishing India’s second-highest scorer with an average of 37. But it was his guidance of a talented but inexperienced and potentially volatile team that really caught the eye, in particular his handling of the cricket’s own walking hand-grenade, Sreesanth. Marooned behind the stumps against Australia, watching with a bad back as the maniac got all worked himself against Matthew Hayden, Dhoni calmly strolled over to the bowler for a conversation. Cue inspired advice; cue Hayden’s off stump being pegged back; cue rapturous celebrations.

The big lad from Jharkhand took to the skipper’s armband as if he’d been born to it. His appointment might have had the naysayers shaking their heads, but those who knew him well spoke highly of his leadership qualities. Former India coach Greg Chappell was adamant that a formidable cricketing brain lurked beneath the swashbuckling exterior: “He’s not reckless. Some of the shots he plays may seem outrageous and risky, but I can assure you he’s usually weighed up the options. He knows what he’s doing.”

Dhoni played his shots, galvanised his side into world-beaters, and got them performing with a heady combination of flair and courage. His laid-back approach belied a calm and calculated aggression and an intuitive reading of the game.

Would a fly-by-night dasher have the guts to toss the ball to the unheralded Joginder Sharma in the last over of a final against Pakistan? After the likes of Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh had been smashed all over the park? I think not.

Sharma delivered an impeccable over, repaying his captain’s faith, while the Indian team, and the nation, erupted. It was a deserved victory for a side that had played electric cricket throughout the tournament. Could it be a watershed in India’s relationship with the Twenty20 format?

Moreover, could the fact that the new generation of Indian cricketers have stepped up to the plate and delivered without their old stagers mark the beginnings of a team able to challenge the relentless excellence of Australia? In the likes of Zaheer Khan, the brilliant RP Singh, Munaf Patel and Sreesanth they have the makings of a dangerous seam attack. In Harbhajan and the immensely promising Piyush Chawla, they have quality spinners whose best years are in front of them. If Dhoni can continue to inspire these boys, then anything is possible.

‘Jharkhand ka laal, tune kiya kamal!’ The son of Jharkhand has done wonders! It’s been the cry in Dhoni’s hometown since he was first appointed captain. Whatever will be the encore?

First published in 2007

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