Captain courageous

Mahendra Singh Dhoni handled the pressures of the top job admirably, writes S. Dinakar.

The man’s energy levels are astonishing. He rallies with the bat, keeps wickets without any drop in intensity and at the fag end of the thriller runs up to the bowler for suggestions on field placements. Yet, more than the very physical nature of a wicketkeeper-batsman’s job, Mahendra Singh Dhoni displayed the strength of mind of a captain. The skipper’s qualities rubbed off on his men. The Indians dished out an aggressive brand of cricket. They did not f ear losing; they triumphed.

In India’s historic triumph down under, the role played by Dhoni was immense. He was in the line of fire himself but did not fall down. It sent a strong message to his men.

Crucially, Dhoni has added patience to instinct. Being impulsive as captain is still his strength — the opposition is not quite able to comprehend his game-plan — but he now realises that he also has to wait for things to happen.

Dhoni has the attributes of a leader. He backs his men. When Yuvraj Singh was going through a horrific run, he publicly declared that the vice-captain would play all the matches of the series. At that point of time, it was a brave thing to say.

The decision to omit Virender Sehwag from the XI was not lacking in courage either. With Dhoni there are no half measures. He is clear about what he wants. To Harbhajan Singh, who was always under the crowd and the media glare, he was the strong captain.

Down under, Dhoni made all the right moves. The decision to hand the new ball to Ishant Sharma — the seamer with a telling off-cutter was always thought of as a first change bowler in the ODIs — paid off as the paceman ripped through the Aussie top-order at the MCG. India gained momentum and self-belief.

Dhoni’s ploy to pick Praveen Kumar and then hand him the new ball was also spot on. The unheralded paceman’s ability to switch lines and get the ball to skid around opened the sluice gates for India.

The Indian captain, rightly, opted for five specialist bowlers at the business end of the competition, even if this meant sending Robin Uthappa, a destructive batsman down the order, to the opening slot. Uthappa changed his methods.

Fielding Piyush Chawla in the finals was, perhaps, his biggest risk. Despite denials by the Australians, the inclusion of the leg-spinner did surprise them. Chawla bowling with Harbhajan in the pivotal middle overs upset the Aussie game-plan.

Dhoni handled the pressures of the top job with élan. His wicketkeeping has improved significantly. He displayed great fight with the willow. And as captain, he was willing to gamble.

Didn’t someone say, “Who dares wins.”