Mahendra Singh Dhoni, an out-of-the-box thinker

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s contribution towards the game has been huge and there is no doubt that he is one of the best captains India has ever seen. It would be difficult to fill in his shoes.

M. S. Dhoni with Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Virat Kohli during the first Test between India and England in Ahmedabad in November 2012.   -  S. Subramanium

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s journey as the captain of the Indian cricket team has been fantastic. And having witnessed this campaign closely, it does bring back memories.

When we took charge of the selection committee, Rahul Dravid had informed the then BCCI chief, Sharad Pawar, that he would step down as the India captain right after the Test series against England in 2007. So, we had an immediate job in hand — to appoint a new captain for the team.

Of course, we opted for Anil Kumble as the Test captain, but we needed someone who would lead the team for the first-ever World T20 — scheduled to be held in South Africa. We needed a young and energetic leader. Back then, T20 was a format that was unknown in most parts of the world.

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We decided to name Dhoni as the captain, aware that it could be a tricky decision. Dhoni hadn’t even led his State team before that, but the selectors were impressed by his approach to the game. The rest is history.

Over the years, he has grown as a captain and his impeccable behaviour both on and off the field made the difference. Also, what worked in his favour was the fact that he could lead from the front in crisis situations.

The way he handled the team over the next few years and treated all the players — including the seniors — was exemplary. Of course, when you select someone as the captain, you expect that he would fare well. But to be honest, we didn’t expect that he would do such a great job. The way the team fared under his guidance was fantastic.

Many people have asked me what was the secret of Dhoni’s success. I think 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 and Dhoni handled every situation perfectly.

In 2008, India won a ODI series for the first time in Australia and it was his first outing as a captain in the one-dayers. But he did an exceptional job and only grew strength to strength thereafter.

As I look back, I feel the best thing about Dhoni is that he would always think out of the box. He could create options in his mind, and had multiple plans — Plan A, Plan B. Even in pressure situations, he could react quickly and that made the job easy for the team. It’s not easy to stay calm and cool throughout, but Dhoni managed to do so and that’s his greatness.

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He hadn’t played for a year since the World Cup last year. I wouldn’t be in a position to say what forced him to announce his retirement. But I think the fact that there would be no limited overs international cricket this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, could be one of the reasons. But then, it’s up to the individual. A champion like Dhoni knows when his time is up.

His contribution towards the game has been huge and there is no doubt that he is one of the best captains India has ever seen. It would be difficult to fill in his shoes.

As told to Shayan Acharya.