Into the mind of M. S. Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni turns 38 today but it is not the age that is important here; he became a legend for his head — right things at the right time.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the only Indian captain with three ICC titles - World T20, World Cup and Champions Trophy.   -  Getty Images

The name Mahendra Singh Dhoni has a regal touch to it. A quick imagination throws a crown on his head, a shield in one arm and a sharp sword in the other. Strong and incisive. To understand Dhoni, you got to think like him. It is the head which, perhaps, is a strong reason behind the ‘15-years and running’ career. He doesn't let it out because he prefers to talk less.

After stepping down from captaincy, Dhoni cut off the distractions further. He stopped coming for press conferences unless an Indian Premier League final or any other big game. Two World Cup victories definitely make him special. What makes him a legend is the head. It has handled problems with performances and balanced the workload in sync with his dreams.

This takes me back to an old conversation with Chanchal Bhattacharya, one of Dhoni’s early coaches. I had called him for a quote as our Captain Cool had suddenly retired from Test cricket. “Nobody can tell what is going on inside his head. But yes, I knew he was going to retire from Tests. He will make sure he defends the World Cup title. And he did not want people pointing fingers at him,” he had said.

It didn’t happen in 2015 but may happen in 2019. It could be the only motivating factor for Dhoni and he is two wins away.

 

Dhoni and I have spoken twice or thrice while passing by the hotel lobby, outside elevators and those courteous, “Good job, captain! Best of luck for the rest of the games” handshakes after press meets. But those were off the record. He wouldn’t chat for an exclusive interview and that pushed me to call his friends, family, coaches and colleagues. Keshav Ranjan Banerjee, his school coach, has been my phone favourite. A lovely gentleman with a warm voice. If not for him, India wouldn’t have had a wicketkeeper like Dhoni.

Three years ago in the month of August, the torrential rains in Mumbai had kept me indoors. Nobody expected me to reach work, but I made it. It was because of Dhoni. His biopic was releasing and this time, I was asked to write a piece on the life incidents that caught the attention of the producers.

After finishing the regular set of discussions with Banerjee Sir, I again ended up asking a question on Dhoni’s instincts and how his brain functions. He shared a wonderful anecdote that highlighted the legend in the making.

Dhoni had played a match-winning knock in an inter-school final for DAV Jawahar Vidya Mandir by promoting himself up the order. “It was in 1997. Mahi was in Class X and our regular opener Shabir Hussain was in XII. Shabir and Sanjeev Kumar were the regular openers. Mahi was No.3 but he said Sir, hum opening mein jayenge (I will open the batting today). I wanted to preserve him for the middle-order but he wouldn't listen. I had told him that if he opens the batting, I will not let anybody else pad up and he needs to finish the match,” he said.

Dhoni hammered an unbeaten 213 off 150 balls to finish the game. His instinct, again, was the real player. It stayed throughout his career.

He felt he could handle Muttiah Muralitharan’s off-spin better in the middle overs in the World Cup 2011 final against Sri Lanka and thus, batted ahead of Yuvraj Singh to finish 91 not out.

Talks of his retirement, strike-rate and the fading ‘finisher’ tag sound humorous. Dhoni doesn’t need them. Rather, he may end up playing for a few more years making a mockery out of such murmurs.

I will end this piece quoting Sportstar columnist Ramji Srinivasan, the former trainer of Team India who has worked closely with Dhoni.

“His mind is something that is to be wondered [at]. His mind and body connection is impeccable. At the end of the day, he decides when to score and when not to score."

Happy birthday, captain!