Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Of sang-froid and India's Captain Cool

Leading Team India can be scary. With a billion-strong population ready to garland and guillotine you with equal fervour, you can always feel the sword of Damocles hanging precariously over your head. Refreshingly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership is neither blighted by the fear of failure nor is swayed by success.

The best thing about Dhoni is that even in the toughest of times, he does not forget to flash that disarming smile. During the bowl-out against Pakistan, in the do-or-die tie against South Africa or in the high-octane semifinal against Australia, Dhoni has always been a man in control of his emotions. In fact, at times, he seemed incredulously unexcitable by what was happening around. Shoehorned into captaincy, Dhoni makes you optimistic that he is not going to fall victim to the Too-Much-Too-Early syndrome which has claimed many a potential leader.

In contrast, his predecessor continues to baffle me. Despite having a set of sparkling teeth, Dravid hardly flashed them on-field. The only plausible reason maybe that Dravid is not the one to flaunt things. Or he did not find it fashionable. Or maybe he thought flashing a smile would dilute the seriousness of the nature of his job.

But the fact remains that Dravid took his job too seriously. An introvert person, so as a skipper, he would further withdraw to his self-imposed cocoon whenever going got tough. His brooding eyes would further sink into the socket, the shoulders would droop and he would seem as irritable as someone whose girl friend has eloped with his best friend and they took his car along with them.

Sourav Ganguly was another character, who polarized opinion like none else and he too was a spectacle as a skipper. In the gung-ho Ganguly era, latecomers just needed to have a look at the animated skipper, and not the scoreboard, to realize that the match was heading for a nail-biting finish.

Ganguly would ferociously chew his nails and spit them out is if those belonged to Greg Chappell. In adversity, Ganguly often resorted to manicure, whether he’s out there fielding or cooling his heels in the dressing room. It was only when he was batting that he was not biting – his fingers, for a change, safe behind the gloves.

Indeed, hardly any skipper in contemporary cricket symbolized and reflected his team’s tooth-and-nail fight against adversity the way Ganguly did. It would be fascinating to know the average damage caused to Ganguly’s nails per match.

It is often said that success does not come without a price and you have to admit that the Prince of Kolkata sacrificed a lot, in terms of nail growth, before he emerged as India’s most successful captain.

Prior to that, we were used to watching myriad of emotions on a babyface and Sachin Tendulkar was as expressive as a pantomime artiste of the first order. So involved in the game that every setback found an instant, and poignant, manifestation in him. He would fidget, grimace, grit teeth, wink, gawk at, yell at himself, kick up dust, shrug shoulder, tug at jersey and resemble a sulking misanthrope, convinced that the wicked world had hatched a conspiracy to doom him.

For Tendulkar, it was a matter of life and death. So instead of being the leader who would lift the morale when the chips are down, the Little Master would, invariably, be the mourner-in-chief.

In contrast, Dhoni proved he can maintain sanity in adversity. The unnerving, and innervating too, pressure could not hamper his decision-making ability – as evident from asking Robin Uthappa, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag to take the bowl-out against Pakistan or inviting Joginder Sharma to bowl the last over in the semifinal against Australia.

Dhoni proved that he has the ability to keep his mind insular, isolated from the whirlpool of occurrences around him. Make no mistake, the passion is there but not to the extent that it cripples the mind and clouds the vision. A lot is said about the need of involvement but at the same time, a little detachment probably helps a captain to put things in perspective and thankfully, Dhoni has that rare quality.



Homer said...


My take on the Dhoni captaincy is that he is more situationally aware than any of his predecessors.

And he is alert to the options available to him and the opposition.

Whether it is his detachment that feeds this awareness or whether it is this awareness that allows him to put things in perspective - either ways, I am completely taken by his ability to lead ( in the proper sense of the word).


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