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MS Dhoni gradually completing successful transition phase for India

MS Dhoni's calm leadership has helped India sail through tough times. He is leading a young, but confident side on the tour to South Africa © PTI
MS Dhoni’s calm leadership has helped India sail through tough times. He is leading a young, but confident side on the tour to South Africa © PTI


Since MS Dhoni took over captaincy in 2007, he has seen the retirements of numerous senior players. Yet, he has continued to build a side and his latest assignment is the tour of  South Africa — where a young but confident side is eyeing success. Abhijit Banare writes about Dhoni’s calm leadership, that has helped India sail through rough waters.


With his usual composed demeanour, Mahendra Singh Dhoni heads into another series against South Africa leading a young and confident side —  one that is looking to stamp it’s authority in Tests as it has done in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). During the last six years, since he first took up captaincy, he has not only flourished personally, but he has also managed to see through a transition phase, which is slowly inching towards a successful completion. And for a long time, it has gone unnoticed.


Ahead of the South Africa tour, Dhoni spoke about the irreplaceable No 4 in the Test batting line-up. In all likelihood, Virat Kohli is set to fill in. While it was a witty reply from Dhoni, in a span of just over a year, the veterans have been replaced by able youngsters. It doesn’t make sense in comparing a Rohit Sharma with a VVS Laxman or Cheteshwar Pujara with a Rahul Dravid, but what matters is whether they are able to deliver the results. And without a shred of doubt, each and every batsman in the current team has proved their value under testing situations.


The ODI team is a well-oiled set-up. It all started with the least expectations when he led India to victory at the ICC World T20 2007. As time went by, the retirements of a few senior players propelled Dhoni to the forefront in ODIs and Tests. For a long time, India was gripped under the Sourav Ganguly-style of captaincy while Dhoni, with minimal attention, started introducing his own unique style. A style which was quite unlike Ganguly’s aggressive approach, but focussed on staying calm and grabbing every opportunity on offer.


Despite leading the team to a historic World Cup win, the Indian limited overs side was not as stable as it appears now. And in 2012, the alleged friction was visible with the controversial rotation policy and his comment on the ‘slow fielders’ in the team. Despite all that, Dhoni became the Mr Dependable for India in the limited-overs format — taking the team through with his batting or clever captaincy filled with the risk-taking attitude.


While the fitness of some senior players was in question, there was also a set of new players in the side who were inconsistent. Rohit Sharma will remain a classic example. Despite all the challenges, Dhoni’s ability to back his players against all odds is a hallmark of his leadership. And over the years it has paid off handsomely. One may never know, under any other captain, Rohit may not have had so many chances. But after playing over 100 ODIs, he made his Test debut and a transformed cricketer.


It looks as if Dhoni is reaping in 2013. The success of Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and others meant that even if Dhoni remained consistent with his form, he need not be the Mr. Dependable as each player is a proven match-winner. With the ICC Champions Trophy win in June this year, the indication of a successful transition in 50-over side was evident. And the results in the series’ since then reaffirm that fact.


As India begin a challenging tour to South Africa, more than the ODIs, the Tests would in focus. There is an air of confidence with the form the players are in, yet the results are ultimately what matter on the field. And on paper, there isn’t much experience to speak about. Yet Dhoni isn’t concerned. This tour, followed by the campaigns in New Zealand and England would determine whether India’s transition in Tests succeeds.


What next for Dhoni?


Within a span of six years, Dhoni has been a catalyst of change in results, quality of players and the attitude of the team to pursue any challenge. The critics and endless debates will continue to discuss about Dhoni and the 2015 World Cup. Irrespective of what happens then, he has already done his well. If there was anything he would be keen to see a change in, it is the bowling at the death in ODIs.


Go back to January 2012. Here is something interesting Dhoni said about his retirement:


“If I have to see through the 2015 (World Cup), I would have to retire from one of the formats. What I really meant is by 2013 I would have to see where I stand as to my body. Whether I will be able to survive till the 2015 World Cup. At 2013 end, I have to decide if fit enough to proceed in one of the format. It’s not for personal but for country and for the individual who is taking my position. He should have played 70-80 ODIs before he goes in World Cup. That’s my personal thinking.”


Going by India’s current situation, Dhoni still has the cushion to work his way out of the hectic schedule and sustain his body till the 2015 World Cup. From the country’s point of view, along with selectors, he deserves every bit of credit for being part of a transition process.


(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)


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