Dhoni’s golden chance

Australians remember the World Cup triumph in 1987 as the starting point of their renaissance; a win that heralded a two-decade hegemony.  The enduring image of a jubilant Allan Border, propped up by Dean Jones and Craig McDermott, during the victory lap at Eden Gardens, is etched in the memory.

It was nothing short of a fairytale and Border’s pivotal role cannot be over-stated – few will forget his crucial wickets of Imran Khan in Lahore and Mike Gatting in Calcutta but fewer still will forget his leadership. Two years earlier, Australian cricket had reached its nadir; Border dragged them out of the depths.

Every World Cup cements a captain’s legacy. Individual performances have often attained mythic proportions. Lloyd set the agenda with a power-packed hundred in the 1975 summit clash, Ponting did the same in 2003. Kapil smashed 175 to keep India alive and then clutched onto the miracle-catch in the 1983 final. Border hoodwinked Gatting into the reverse-paddle.

Imran galvanised what seemed like a rabble into an irresistible force,  Steve Waugh famously inspired a shaky Australia in 1999 with ‘it’s simple now, we need to win seven in a row’. And Sri Lanka’s glorious journey in 1996 would have been impossible if not for Ranatunga’s inspiring presence. It was only fitting that he hit the winning runs on that unforgettable night in Lahore.

Even captains who haven’t won the World Cup are remembered fondly for their campaigns: Martin Crowe propelled New Zealand during their remarkable run in ’92; Sourav Ganguly guided India to the threshold in ’03.

On Saturday, either Sangakkara or Dhoni will be immortalised in cricketing legend. Sangakkara has been expert at the steering wheel with three fifties and a century – at a 100-plus average – during this tournament. Though he was appointed the captain only two years ago, he was the heir apparent for long. He’s the kind of captain who pulls the team from the front. His openers are riding a wave and his strike bowlers – Malinga and Murali – are both maverick and devastating.

Dhoni has largely been a captain who pushes from the rear. He’s been massively criticised through the campaign and it hasn’t helped that his batting form has deserted him.

He’s been pilloried for some of his team selections and appears to be in the midst of a long-running battle with the media. His decision to bowl Ashish Nehra in the final over against South Africa was long debated, as was his early preference for Piyush Chawla, which combined with what was seen as a lack of faith in R Ashwin.

He’s made news for changing the batting order – especially for floating Virat Kohli around – and for acknowledging his poor judgement of pitch in the semi-final.

As the tournament has worn on, his on-field captaincy has shone through: opening the bowling with Ashwin against Australia, using Zaheer in short bursts through the innings, setting canny fields for the spinners – occasionally giving Harbhajan a man at backward short leg – and backing Nehra in a crunch game. It’s impossible to quantify a captain’s contributions but Dhoni has played a big part. And, given his earlier record, he’s been lucky too: winning 5 tosses out of 8.

Back in August 2007, in his first press conference after being appointed captain for the T20 World Cup in South Africa, Dhoni was asked if captaincy was something he had always aspired to. Here was what he said:  “Not really. I always wanted to play good aggressive cricket and do well for my country. I think it’s not about leading, it is about playing and doing well.”

I found the candid nature of this response stunning. It came with an unnerving certainty. A few years earlier, the thought of a cricketer from Jharkhand leading India would have been unimaginable and here he was sitting calmly at The Oval and saying he didn’t really aspire to captaining the country.

Over the last four years, there’s little he hasn’t won. He’s overseen India’s rise to the top of the Test pile and won three high-pressure T20 titles –  including a momentous World Cup. One-dayers have been India’s weakest suit in this period but a World Cup triumph in Mumbai would well and truly make up for the lack of consistency before. Twenty years down the line, few will remember the poor ODI results from largely meaningless games in 2009 and 2010; they’ll remember him holding aloft the World Cup.

Dhoni has a great chance to become the first captain to lift a World Cup at home but there’s another, slightly more quirky, statistic which many may not be aware of:  Dhoni may become the first World Cup winning captain to go through a whole campaign without a single half-century.

But it won’t matter. One of the most forgotten stats from 1987 is that Border made 183 runs in 8 World Cup games, with just one fifty, at an average of 22.87. His only half-century was against Zimbabwe.

Yet, the 1987 triumph is not Boon’s World Cup or Marsh’s World Cup or McDermott’s World Cup. It’s Border’s World Cup. And ultimately that is the bottom line.

Related: Dear MS Dhoni …

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8 Responses to Dhoni’s golden chance

  1. kumarsinha says:

    Dhoni’s inspirational story will be etched in every sports lover’s heart and really take his success story a grand one if he wins tomorrow or even in 2015, hope it is tomorrow. Cheers!… nice read again

  2. clearcricket says:

    A leader – especially in sports – is one who deflects the plaudits to his team mates and support staff, and takes the blame head on. Dhoni, since 2007, has shown remarkable ability to absorb the pressure and be honest with himself and about his team’s strengths and limitations.

    Most striking aspect of the post game interview after the Ind-Pak semifinals was the fact he was wrong in selecting 3 seamers. He could have easily said based on hindsight and Nehra’s superlative performance that, “listen, I read the pitch right. See how it all turned out.. I am awesome”. The plain honesty was so refreshing.

    When it comes to matters on the field, he is so unpretentious. “We do not have the ability to field like SA or Aus. Our bowlers can’t bowl at 140k.”

    Most important of all, his demeanor when things don’t go well for the team. It is no different than when everything is going swimmingly well. I could go on and on about it… but let me wrap this up by saying what I have maintained throughout, “Dhoni knows what he is doing.”

  3. vishal says:

    Dhoni’s candid press conferences have been the highlight of his tenure. From the ‘boys did well’ deadpan of azhar to ‘we have to follow the process’ of articulated drone from dravid we have never had a captain who so easily connected to the masses as he has. His comment after the CB series victory in Australia will linger long after his reign. With the backdrop of having dropped the mercurial dada and dravid he was entitled to have his gloat (having also won the t20 WC with his young bunch). But he simply stated “this victory buys us time”.
    Of course he had the little big man to thank for conjuring back to back gems in the finals but haven’t we covered that already !!

  4. Milan Aggarwal says:

    Just saw Cinderella Man and saw 1000’s of people praying for braddock to win his championship bout. And if with a 1000’s people support, an old man can overcome a thunderstorm in the ring and survive his death and become the hero of his fairytale comeback. I just dont know why when more than 1.2 billion people out there will be cheering for 11 players on the field tomorrow, why this world cup is not coming home. Really pumped up for tomorrow. And as like any other person reading this, i will be glued to my TV set not moving an inch. probably this time the boys will bring back the hope i lost in 2003. I will be swearing when munaf will be getting his ass kicked or when gambhir will be getting himself out after running out of patience. i know i will be swearing a lot. But deep down there, from the bottom of my heart, i will be saying. GO INDIA GO! And if the miracle does happen. Then the nation will truly BLEED BLUE..

  5. Yogesh says:

    “Kapil clutched onto the miracle-catch”, Siddarth, still you have not left the clutch :-)

    On losing captains, i think Chappelli and Mahela deserve a mention ! I hope that Dhoni won’t be castigated if we lose. It would be a pity if his captaincy is forgotten just because of one loss !

    • sidvee says:

      Ha. Kapil was a true clutch player :)

      • vishal says:

        True .. even with waning powers that spell at eden on the wiills world series final was brilliant . if only he hadn’t eked out 30 tests for his final 30 wickets …

        On a different note, can’t believe Dhoni is contemplating sreesanth over Ashwin .. NOT AGAIN!!!!! Sid tell me if I am going insane, but how can you .. but,but … nooooooo

  6. Boni says:

    Damn! Dhoni did not get that quirky statistical distinction :). Allzwell.

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