Mahi, the motivator

Even in times of crisis, when many would press the panic button, Mahendra Singh Dhoni would quietly look at the situation, think for a minute and then effectively come up with an idea that many wouldn’t even think of.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni... always has a positive mind-set.   -  PTI

As the Jharkhand cricketers boarded the Kriya Yoga Express, bound for Kolkata, at Ranchi on a wintry February evening, they were in for a surprise. In one corner of a two-tier bay stood a gentleman, who they don’t see very often. That too in a train!

With the youngsters yet to come to terms with the fact that they were actually travelling with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the ‘Captain Cool’ walked up to them and joked, “It will be a good journey, we will have a long chat…”

For the next eight hours, Dhoni ensured that his team-mates did not have a dull moment. The former India captain, who was leading Jharkhand in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, spoke to each and every player about cricket, and how they could improve their game.

“That’s how Mahi bhai is. He actually travelled with us by train so that there could be a better team bonding. It is always special to share the dressing room with him,” Ishan Kishan, a regular member of the Jharkhand team, says.

Ishan, who led India in the Under-19 World Cup last year, admits that in the last few months, he has been able to improve his game because of Dhoni. “He is always there to help out. With legends like him around, you learn so many things easily,” he says.

According to Ishan, one session with Dhoni actually helped him regain his concentration. “He had told me to just remain focused, and the rest will come easily. With Mahi bhai around, there is no scope for negative thinking,” he says.

Paddy Upton, who has worked as the mental coach with Team India, believes that the positive mind-set makes Dhoni a good motivator. During his stint with the Indian side that won the World Cup in 2011, Upton and the then coach, Gary Kirsten, had ensured that Dhoni was given a free-hand in managing the team. And years later, Upton feels that their decision was quite right.

“MS is very unemotional. You would never get to know what’s going on in his mind. So even in times of trouble, he would be unperturbed,” Upton says.

And that is what makes the former India skipper exceptional.

Echoing Upton’s views, Dhoni’s team-mates — past and present — agree that his calmness and indomitable spirit is something they all admire. “Even in his early days as captain, Dhoni’s team meetings would last for hardly 10 minutes, because he never believed in speaking much. He was more interested in the results on the field. That was enough to keep away the negativities,” says Irfan Pathan, a member of the Indian team that won the first World T20 in 2007.

“Dhoni isn’t somebody who would analyse too much, because over-analysis would put the players under pressure,” he adds.

The pace bowler still remembers that evening of 2007, when Dhoni asked Joginder Sharma to bowl the final over in that historic World T20 final. “There have been moments when Dhoni has taken the toughest of decisions without even thinking twice. That is what makes him a good motivator,” says Pathan, referring to that historic final over, where a rather inexperienced Joginder was brought into the attack against a formidable Misbah-ul Haq.

“Misbah was in brutal form. Things could have gone differently. Even then, Dhoni kept faith in Joginder. He asked the players to gear up. That was enough for the team to deliver the goods,” a nostalgic Pathan says.

After the World T20, Pathan followed Dhoni to Chennai Super Kings in the first edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). And seeing him from close quarters in the early days of the cash-rich league, Pathan admits that the experience at CSK, indeed, made Dhoni what he is today — a confident leader.

“In the IPL, it is all about being in the right frame of mind throughout. One rough decision could put the team in a soup, and there Dhoni exactly knew what he had to do. But for that he would never hold long meetings. Dhoni loved keeping it short and simple,” Pathan points out.

But then, Dhoni is not someone who would shout to be heard. Upton remembers instances when Dhoni would remain calm and quiet even at the team meetings or special gatherings. “MS is a man of few words. He will never show happiness or disappointment in front of his team-mates. That is something which helps his team-mates share a special bonding with the skipper. Because even they know, that this gentleman would never allow negativity to creep in,” Upton says.

Even though Dhoni is no longer India captain, he still has that aura about him. Perhaps that is why, even now the youngsters crave for that one ‘coveted piece of advice’ from Dhoni.

Jammu and Kashmir cricketer Ian Dev Singh laughs, as he speaks about his experience of meeting Dhoni after a Vijay Hazare Trophy game in Kalyani recently. After their league game against Jammu and Kashmir, the Jharkhand captain walked into the rival dressing room to share a few things with the young players. Nobody knew Dhoni would be coming, so as the youngsters saw him walking into the dressing room, there was a sense of disbelief. “It’s not every day that you get to meet India’s most successful captain. So as he started talking to us, everyone wanted to know how to improve their game. And Dhoni answered each and every question, without showing any attitude,” Ian says.

The young batsman, however, is impressed by the way Dhoni told him not to think about a poor patch. “He actually told me that bad form is a hypothetical term. So, it is important that you don’t let the negative thoughts affect you. This thing really helped,” Ian says.

This is something that defines Dhoni — the motivator. Even in times of crisis when many would press the panic button, the gentleman from Ranchi would quietly look at the situation, think for a minute and then effectively come up with an idea that many wouldn’t even think of.

It is not for nothing that they call him ‘Captain Cool.’