Captain cool has a whale of a time

K. PICUMANI

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a strong captain and leads by example. The respect for him in the team is spontaneous. While he is intense in the arena, Dhoni is a vibrant personality off it. By S. Dinakar.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men are a popular bunch. They are constantly swarmed for autographs and photos by fans at the Taj Samudra lobby. The Indian team cuts a happy picture. The chemistry between the seniors and the younger cricketers is healthy. Dhoni talks about giving an opportunity to all.

He is a strong captain and leads by example. The respect for him in the team is spontaneous. While he is intense in the arena, Dhoni is a vibrant personality off it.

The skipper is seldom short of a laugh and he listens to tales from the younger players at the dinner table. As a captain, wicket-keeper and a batsman, Dhoni carries an enormous burden physically and mentally. Yet, he seldom allows the pressure to get to him.

Dhoni, however, is little tense during the second ODI at the Premadasa Stadium. He sheds his captain cool image for a while, running constantly to his bowlers, signalling animatedly to the fielders and letting off some steam whenever there is an error in line.

Dhoni admits later, “You cannot be cool all the time in international cricket.”

India clinches a thriller but Dhoni is not entirely satisfied. He stresses that bowling needs to improve. Despite a win, the captain is pushing his men to raise their level.

Meanwhile, the security in Colombo is becoming tighter. I have to pass through at least six security checks while returning to the hotel after the third ODI. The Lankan Independence Day is approaching and the cops and the military are taking no chances.

Tanks roll on the road along the beach facing the team hotel; these heavy machines will be part of the parade on the Big Day for Sri Lanka. Heavily guarded, the Taj Samudra, momentarily, appears a fortress.

Dhoni has been lucky with the toss but then the Indians have made their own luck on the arena.

Sachin Tendulkar, however, has been running out of luck with the umpiring decisions — three matches and three wrong leg-before decisions. The maestro accepts the verdicts with great dignity.

“What a humble human being,” marvels Match Referee Chris Broad during breakfast. The former England opener is impressed with the manner in which Tendulkar takes an umpiring decision in his stride.

Broad’s son Stuart is now a pace bowling all-rounder for England. Does he get nervous watching Stuart play? “I used to before but not now. I know he can take care of himself,” says the father.

Meanwhile, the crowds are getting smaller at the Premadasa Stadium, a reflection of the Lankan performance in the series. However, Muttiah Muralitharan achieves a big feat.

The off-spinning wizard becomes the highest wicket-taker in the ODIs. Muralitharan cuts a cake — the magic number 503 inscribed on it — at the team hotel. He is a popular cricketer and the celebration is warm hearted.

The next morning Muralitharan frolics with his little son near the swimming pool. From a match-winning spinner to a loving father, Muralitharan can don several roles. The sun is shining on this unique bowler from Kandy.