Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 2nd 2015 Contents SIDARTH MONGIA,
There is a little story from the World Twen-
ty20 in South Africa in 2007 that tells you as
much as any about MS Dhoni the captain.
He was leading a side of young unknowns
into the unknown---a format India hadn t
accepted yet---when news came from India
that Rahul Dravid had given up the captaincy
and that Dhoni had been made the ODI cap-
Captains usually publicly accept the job.
Steven Smith did four press conferences in the
first week of his Australia captaincy. The first
two were on successive days: first he was
unveiled as captain, and on the next day he
showed up for the pre-Gabba Test discussion.
Smith is 25. Dhoni was 26 back then. And
ODI cricket is big deal in India. You just couldn t
get him to do a press conference or talk about
captaincy. He was reluctant to the point of
being shy. I don t want this exposure. I haven t
even done anything as captain yet. The team
manager tried, some senior journalists tried,
phone calls from home arrived, and eventually
he gave in, agreeing to read out a statement
while coming out of the nets in Durban. He
didn t take any questions.
The template was being set. Dhoni was taking
up a job that would ask him questions every
step of the way, but he wanted to answer few
of them. He hadn t gone out seeking the job.
He saw it as any other job that he wanted to
end at stumps. He wanted to enjoy the cap-
taincy, not the paraphernalia that comes along
Dhoni s Test captaincy began similarly, with-
out much scrutiny or intrusion, but not by
design. Anil Kumble was on his last legs, missing
as many Tests as he was playing. Dhoni didn t
even do a press conference on the eve of his
captaincy debut, for Kumble pulled out only
later. India won easily in Kanpur. To the toss
Dhoni wore a blazer two sizes too big. He d
soon get one made for himself, but he was
never a blazer man.
Later that year Dhoni and Kumble shared
the reins in a series once again. The matches
that Dhoni captained, India won. Kumble man-
aged draws. It is instructive again that in his
first Test as full-time captain, against Australia
in Nagpur, Dhoni was hailed as a tactical genius
for a move bedded essentially in defence.
Australia were trailing in the series, they
had to do all the running, and Dhoni gave them
an 8-1 off-side field and asked Ishant Sharma
to bowl well out of their reach. Frustrated,
Australia threw away their wickets, and 1-0
It was a clever move. There are many ways
to skin a cat. This one was skinned through
denial. Then again this was a finite environment.
Dhoni knew if he could deny Australia runs
for long enough, he would ensure a series win,
and then take the rest as a bonus. Dhoni is
spectacular when cricket is finite. Limited to
20 overs. To 50 overs. When there is a result
in sight. It was when the possibilities were
thrown wide open that he showed he was lim-
Dhoni s ambition was limited too. He showed
a great fear of losing. In Wellington, in the last
Test of his first away series as captain, Dhoni
sat on the series lead again, and set New Zealand
617 to win with forecast of rain on the final
evening. Until then New Zealand had scored
600 only three times in their history. And only
one team had ever scored 600 in the fourth
innings: England in the timeless Test in 1939.
In the first innings of this Test, New Zealand
hadn t even reached 200. India had taken eight
wickets when rain arrived, giving them just the
Dhoni expressed no regret at setting New
Zealand such a ridiculous target. Some New
Zealanders still rib India about their declaration.
This was pragmatism taken to frustrating
extremes. This was the story of a majority of
Dhoni s career as Test captain. Too easily he
would let games drift, control his only means
of taking wickets. Sometimes the batting bailed
him out, like at P Sara Oval, when he had let
Thilan Samaraweera and Ajantha Mendis run
away with the game. Sometimes he let golden
opportunities go, like at Newlands when he sat
back on defence too early in the injured Jacques
Kallis second dig. Sometimes it worked, but
mostly at home, when his spinners and Zaheer
Khan provided him the control he was after.
There would be passages of play when Dhoni
would make you want to pull your hair out. In
Nagpur, December 2012, India were behind in
the series against England. This was the last
Test of the series. India had to do everything
to force a result. It was a slow pitch that made
run-scoring extremely difficult. In response to
England s 330 in 145.5 overs, India were 297
for 8 in 130.1 overs at the end of the third day.
We were getting into the moving day, the
fourth day. India spent the first hour, 62 golden
minutes, scoring just 29 runs. The lack of match
awareness was mindboggling. In the previous
Test England had brought the fields up for R
Ashwin for the last two balls of the over. Here
Ashwin said he was surprised they didn t. The
dressing room remained cool.
This cool became infuriating. Dhoni had
taken India to soaring heights in limited-overs
cricket by remaining cool. In Tests, sometimes,
you have to make things happen. Under him,
India didn t make things happen. They accepted
fate too easily. They accepted too easily that
some of the seniors had the right to decide
when they wanted to go.
They accepted too easily that some players
had the right to choose IPL even if it jeopardised
their chances of winning or drawing Tests.
They accepted too easily that a 1-0 series lead
was enough in the West Indies, and they called
off a chase with 86 required in 15 overs and
seven wickets in hand. You felt like holding
Dhoni by the shoulders and shaking him up.
There is more, though, to India s captaincy
than just tactics, bowling changes and field
sets. The previous long-term captain quit
because he couldn t handle all that.
Sachin Tendulkar s recent book has proved
how difficult even such a consummate pro-
fessional could be to handle at most times.
• Twitter: @GuardianTT • Web: guardian.co.tt
Crystal Palace captain Mile Jed-
inak has won his second con-
secutive Australian footballer
of the year award.
Football Federation Australia
said in a statement yesterday
that a panel of national team
coaching staff awarded Jedinak,
a month after the 30-year-old
midfielder was recognised as
Asian football s international
player of the year.
Jedinak is in training camp
with Australia as the team pre-
pares for the Asian Cup. It
opens the tournament next Fri-
day against Kuwait in Mel-
Brisbane Roar s Katrina Gorry,
who played a key role in the
Matildas reaching the final of
the Women s Asian Cup in Viet-
nam last July, was named Aus-
tralia s best female footballer.
Jedinak named Australia footballer of the year
...but MS Dhoni was always in control
MS Dhoni took India
to soaring heights in
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