He has such an inherent ability to churn up the unexpected that surprise could well be Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s middle-name. On Wednesday evening, the lad from Ranchi, whose entry in world cricket in 2004 and whose elevation as captain of the Indian limited-over teams in 2007 took everyone by storm, did that one more time by giving up the leadership role ahead of the series against England.
Even if we spend some time cursorily examining his leadership stint, there will be some insights into that mind that few have ever understood fully. Here we shall make no attempt to understand his surprise decisions to quit Test cricket and captaincy of the limited-over teams but instead will focus on some wonderful traits that stand out.
Develop ability to soak up pressure
His ability to absorb pressure without giving away much facially must be one his greatest qualities. It helped his players understand their roles and the team’s expectations from them. Throughout his career, it appeared as if he had befriended pressure.
Treat victory and defeat the same
As a captain, Dhoni was adept at being able to face success and failure with equanimity. He was not the one who was given to overt celebration when the team won. Nor was he a leader who vent his disappointment or frustration at losses in public. He would not over-analyse the matches once they were done and dusted. His leadership was about good preparation and attempt to execute those plans.
Build and back your team
He inherited a team that included many players who were senior to him but he did not let that matter. Over time, he backed younger players to come good. He helped develop a culture with the players and the support staff in which each could contribute to the hilt. His successor Virat Kohli seems to have embraced that legacy.
Remain unfazed by cult status or criticism
He acquired cult status quickly, with his unbeaten 183 against Sri Lanka in Jaipur in 2005 converting masses of fans - who were dismayed by India’s losing streak that had lasted several months. He was quite the darling of cricket fans. Over time, he acquired his share of critics – mostly former cricketers – who would not understand why he did not promote himself up the batting order. He remained unaffected by the growing legion of fans or the mumbled criticism and kept performing.
Adapt to evolving situation
Dhoni always laid a big stress on his team-mates’ ability to assess and adapt to the evolving situations. He kept encouraging them to improve their perception by constantly analysing the game. It resulted in the team learning from mistakes and working hard not to commit them again. For a team whose bowling was supposed to be the weak link, he surely encouraged them to keep raising the bar all the time by being aware of the match situation, analysing it and performing accordingly.
Trust your instincts to make sound judgements
From the time Dhoni took over the reins of the Indian team till the moment he relinquished captaincy, he backed his instinct in picking the players to deliver the goods for the team and empowering them to express themselves. He was fearless and not prejudiced in making his choices, even though he received flak when some seniors were replaced with fresher pairs of legs. He has always striven hard and often succeeded in making the optimum use of the resources at his disposal so that the team could savour the taste of success.