MS Dhoni captained India in Test cricket from 2008-2014, in ODIs and T20Is from 2007-2016 and has one of the most enviable records of captaincy in international cricket. He is the only international captain to win all the three ICC trophies in World T20 (2007), the World Cup (2011) and the Champions Trophy (2013).
However, not many people have got to know how MS Dhoni used his razor-sharp mind to captain some of the stalwarts of the game and some of the most brilliant youngsters in his team during his tenure as captain. Mind games were always part of MS Dhoni’s game plan against the opposition, but how he went about doing things is an enthralling insight into the man itself.
Bharat Sundaresan in his book The Dhoni Touch explores the mind and methods of one of the most brilliant cricketers of our time, MS Dhoni. The following excerpts from the book are courtesy of the Indian Express.
“In February 2008, India were chasing down a facile total of 160 against Australia in the Commonwealth Bank Series at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It was only the fifteenth ODI as captain for MS Dhoni, and he was at the crease with Rohit Sharma. With 10 runs to win, he called for a needless change of gloves. Usually a call for gloves was a message from the pavilion to the batsmen, however Dhoni was doing the opposite though. He was sending a poignant message back to the pavilion. ‘Nobody will celebrate on the balcony once we win this match.’”, writes Sundaresan.
“When they give their hand, just firmly hold yours out without folding it like an obligation, but don’t overdo it. And just stare blankly at them without any hint of excitement,” Dhoni told a young Rohit Sharma about shaking the hands with the Australian after the win.
The Australian team was at its best in 2008 and cock-a-hoop about their chances of winning the CB series. The Ricky Ponting side believed that every loss of theirs was an upset and MS Dhoni wanted to break this illusion of theirs. Dhoni the rookie wanted to give his all-conquering, world-beating counterpart his version of the cold shoulder.
“This was Mahi’s way of saying it’s no big deal. My bowlers got them all out for 160 and we are chasing it down, usme kaunse badi baat hai (there’s no big deal in it). If we celebrate wildly, the Aussies will be vindicated in their belief that this was an upset. We wanted to tell them that this is not a fluke. This is going to happen over and over again. The Aussies simply couldn’t handle it. They were shaken,” a player from that tour revealed much later.
Dhoni got the better of the Aussies at their own ‘mental disintegration’ game. Like he does with everything else, the Indian captain did it in his own style, without ever going overboard.
One of the senior Australian batsman, who was not known for holding back on the field had been pressurizing and sledging every one of them when they were batting. And that when one responded in kind, the player asked the youngster to show him some respect.
So, the next time he walked out to open the innings, Dhoni lined up all the juniors near the boundary line in a mock guard of honor. And all they kept saying to the burly Australian was, ‘respect, respect, respect’, as he walked towards the middle. ‘It was Mahi’s way of saying, “I want to thank you. Yeh le lo respect. (You want respect on demand. Here it is.)”,’ says a former teammate.
“Goli maarta hai apne style mein (He shoots in his own style.) He says the problem is if I allow my boys to give maa–behen ki gaali (swear words involving someone’s mother or sister); it’s they and not the one being subjected to it who’ll feel the pinch of what they’ve done for the rest of the day,’ one of Dhoni’s close friends explains. ‘He doesn’t believe in overt displays of aggression. He believes that if you want to hurt them, do it in your style, not in their way. If they believe in swearing, you don’t need to do it,” he adds.
In 2016, when the World T20 tourney came to India, it was the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) turn to find out that you simply can’t force Dhoni’s hand and make him do something he doesn’t want to do.
The ICC and the broadcasters had come up with an idea before the event where they would get the captains of each team to read out their playing XIs into the microphone once the toss was done. As it turned out, India took on New Zealand at Nagpur in the opening game of the tournament. The first captain who would have to play the role of the makeshift announcer was Dhoni. But when the request was made to him, his answer was, as always, short and to the point. ‘No, I don’t think so,’ he’s learned to have said. Just like that, the ICC’s grand idea was dropped.
The best practices of presenting Dhoni with an idea — always as a passing suggestion rather than as a strong idea.