Dhoni & the legacy of seeding Test dreams in India’s hinterland

So what will we remember Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the lad from Ranchi who wore the number 251 on his white India shirt? His unconventional yet engaging batting, the frustration of his standing too far back to the pacers much of the time being balanced by smart stumpings, his chatter with the team-mates, in encouragement or when chiding them, and, the cheeky smile are all wonderful freeze frames that come to mind.

However, even if India has had players come from its hinterland before, few managed to make such an impact as Mahendra SinghDhoni. He infused a belief in small-town lads that they could rise to the very top if they backed their talent. And that would remain the biggest of his contributions to India’s Test cricket team over the past decade.

When he surfaced in Test cricket, few would have imagined him lasting 90 Tests and scoring 4876 runs at just over 38 runs an innings. His technique, both in front and behind the wickets, seemed unrefined. The feeling was that his batting would be sorted out sooner than later by the opposition. He confounded them for a good part of a decade.

He worked hard to improve his wicket-keeping skills, especially when standing up to spin bowlers and brining off smart stumpings with a unique style that saw him take the ball early, not draw the gloves back a wee bit in what is called the ‘give’ but whip the bails off a fraction of a second sooner than most.

Having started his Test career when Greg Chappell was coach of the Indian team, he bought into the Australian’s philosophy of getting the processes right and not worrying too much about the results. And, till his last day in Test cricket, he has advocated that the players in his team get the processes right, unmindful of the fact that India lost six overseas series in-a-row.

Truth to tell, if he were not leading the team in the rebuilding phase, the selectors may have nudged him gently and gone on to remove him from the Test side for failing to evolve as a more reliable lower-order batsman, especially in overseas conditions where his only century came at Faisalabad back in January 2006 in the first of his 83 innings.

He may regret being unable to complete formal education but as he enlightened himself on one of the finest – and inarguably toughest – platforms there can be, you can be sure that B-school students across the country would benefit from Mahendra Singh Dhoni‘s experiences of leading, cajoling, motivating diverse personalities in that entity called Team India.

The fact that he could extend his unconventional methods from batting to captaincy came up occasionally during his 60-match stint as India’s Test captain. Quite early, in just his third Test as skipper, he showed at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha that he could stifle the flow of runs by having eight fielders on the off-side to the Australian batsmen.

He employed Virender Sehwag’s off-spin inside the 10th over of Sri Lanka’s second innings in Colombo to pick up the wickets of the openers Tharanga Paranavitana and Tillakaratne Dilshan in successive overs and spur India to victory; Not to forget his forcing Ishant Sharma to use bouncers to earn India’s maiden Test victory at the hallowed Lord’s ground this year.

Yet, while his decision to quit Test cricket in the middle before the completion of the series in Australia can be challenged, more so with India due to play their next Test only in the second half of 2015, it is interesting that he chose to leave the stage 10 Tests away from a landmark 100th Test.

Perhaps, it was a troublesome back that made him want to focus on India’s defence at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. Whatever the reason, his cheeky smile, his chatter with team-mates, in encouragement or when chiding them, his Curate’s Egg wicket-keeping skills and his unconventional yet engaging batting in white gear will all become part of YouTube playlists.

But somewhere out there in India’s hinterland, there are lads aspiring to take a leaf out of his uncomplicated book and pursue their aspirations of becoming one of the nation’s most sought after people. And seeding such dreams where getting the processes right will be most important is the man from Ranchi with the greying beard, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s lasting legacy.

(This piece was written back in December 2014 when MS Dhoni retired from Test cricket)

About Rajaraman 453 Articles
Born on March 10, 1961 in Hyderabad, I wanted to be an electronics engineer but my focus on cricket and basketball at school and junior college meant that I missed qualifying from the entrance examination. I led the School and Junior College basketball teams. I then decided he would be sports a journalist like my father, Mr N Ganesan. While I graduated in commerce from the Badruka College of Arts and Commerce, I also spent more time in sports, representing Andhra Pradesh in the National Basketball Championship in 1980 and Osmania University in 1981-82. I joined the 1981-82 batch of Osmania Univeristy's Bachelor in Communication and Journalism. I missed the gold medal by 0.6 per cent and was pursuing the Masters' degree when The Hindu offered me a job as Sub-Editor in Madras. I took up The Hindu assignment on March 17, 1983. Though my job entailed editing functions only, I got to cover the annual Sholavaram motor racing grands prix in 1985 and 1986 and the Himalayan Rally in 1985 when my photographs also found expression in The Sportstar. I left The Hindu in November 1986 to join Press Trust of India as Sports Reporter in Hyderabad. I was called to New Delhi to report on the World Table Tennis Championship in March 1987. I covered a variety of events, including the SAF Games in Calcutta in 1987 and Islamabad in 1989. I ventured to Delhi in July 1992 when I joined The Pioneer as a Senior Reporter/Sub-Editor (Sports). My cricket writing skills came to the fore when I was deputed to write on India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 1993. I was rewarded with a promotion as Deputy Sports Editor in 1995. The departure of the Sports Editor in January 1996 saw me hold charge. A good performance during the 1996 World Cup cricket and the Olympic Games in Atlanta - when The Pioneer brought out a four-page supplement every day saw me being confirmed as Sports Editor in August 1996. The Hindustan Times, Delhi's largest newspaper, appointed me as Associate Editor (Sports) in January 1997. I conceived and launched a weekly colour supplement, Sport during the World Cup football finals in 1998. I covered the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1999 World Cup cricket in England. I left the Hindustan Times on February 23, 2000 to take up position as Editor, www.cricketnext.com on February 26 and can claim with pride that I played no mean role in building a good site that is rated among the best cricket news sites. Besides, a number of TV channels – NDTV, Star News, Doordarshan, CNBC, Zee News – and radio stations like BBC, SABC and ABC have invite me to in-studio discussions on cricket. In 2001, I authored a book, Match-fixing: The Enemy Within (Har Anand Publications). I joined www.espnstar.com as Senior Editor in June 2001 and worked for two years, helping it transform from a corporate website to a respected sports site and playing a role in driving the hugely popular online fantasy cricket game, Super Selector. I left the website to pursue life as a freelance writer and consultant, editing the Afro-Asian Games Observer in Hyderabad in October-November 2003 and helping the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Communication Committee. I joined the respected weekly magazine Outlook as Senior Special Correspondent in April 2005 and worked there till September 2007, with a story highlighting Sunil Gavaskar's minimal contribution to Indian cricket after his retirement being one of the best in my career. For a year, till Sept 30, 2008, I was Sports Editor, Samay, Sahara India's National news channel. I live in New Delhi with my wife Sudha and daughter Priya and after a short stint with www.iplt20.com and www.t20.com, I am now consultant with the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (28° 40' 0 N, 77° 13' 0 E) lending my shoulder to the wheel that will make India a hugely popular sports destination.