It was indeed a bolt from the blue!
Soon after guiding India to a Test series win against England, Rahul Dravid informed the national selection committee that he would step down as the India captain with immediate effect. The suddenness of the move caught the five wise men by surprise and now, they had a tough job in hand -- to appoint a new captain for the team.
It was an August afternoon in 2007 and the selectors had to brainstorm to make a perfect choice as Dravid’s successor. While Anil Kumble was roped in as skipper for the longer format, India needed a young and energetic leader for the first-ever World T20 -- scheduled to be held next month in South Africa.
It was walking into the unknown -- a format that still looked alien in most parts of the world. But the selection committee headed by former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar took a bold decision that had raised quite a few eyebrows back then -- they made Mahendra Singh Dhoni the captain for the World T20!
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“Dhoni hadn’t even led his state team before that. But what impressed us was his approach to the game and his cool demeanour. That’s why all the five selectors were on the same page,” Vengsarkar told Sportstar .
As the chairman of the panel, Vengsarkar was in England to watch the Test series, while his four other colleagues were in India. “We had to pick the side for the World T20 over phone. Back then, T20 was a new format and we had not played in it before that. So, we decided to pick Dhoni as the captain and the rest is history…”
It’s been thirteen years since and Vengsarkar still remembers how Dhoni’s cool and calm demeanour was the guiding force behind India’s success in the tournament. “The way he handled the team and the seniors was exemplary indeed. Of course, when you select someone as the captain, we expect that he would do a good job, but we didn’t expect that he would do a great job like Dhoni did. It was a fantastic thing and we were happy the way team fared,” Vengsarkar said.
While Dhoni flexed his muscles in the white ball format, Vengsarkar also emphasised on Kumble exploits as captain in the five-day cricket. “Kumble did an extremely good job as the Test captain and we were in fact wondering why wasn’t he made the captain earlier…” the then chief selector reminisced.
Dhoni, too, went about his business, stamping his class across formats. “The way he played the game and led the side was exemplary,” Vengsarkar said.
It was not easy for Dhoni, who was only 26 then, to handle such a responsibility. But he did it with elan. So, what made him stand out?
“At that stage, mental strength is very important. It’s about how you conduct on and off the field, with each success and failure. That shows the maturity of the person…” Vengsarkar said.
In his long association with Dhoni, Vengsarkar has always been impressed with the way Dhoni tackles a situation. “The best thing about Dhoni is that he always thought out of the box. He always created options in his mind, and had multiple plans -- Plan A, Plan B. That’s his greatness,” he said.
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Back in 1988, Vengsarkar was instrumental in picking a young Sachin Tendulkar in the Bombay Ranji Trophy squad. Impressed with the way the young gun batted in the nets, Vengsarkar pushed for his selection. The rest, as they, is history.
“When I picked Sachin for the Bombay team in 1988-89, I knew he was an exceptional talent, but I never expected him to become such a great player. But then, it’s up to the individual. The same thing happened with Virat Kohli. When we picked him, we never thought he would become such a great player. But he did. It was similar with Dhoni…” Vengsarkar said.
As Dhoni turns 39, there are speculations over his future in the Indian team. But then, those who have seen the ‘boy from Ranchi’ come so far, agree that he would take the right step when necessary. After all, that’s what MS Dhoni is all about -- making the right move at the right time!