MS Dhoni led India to the World T20 title in his very first tournament as captain © Getty Images
MS Dhoni led India to the World T20 title in his very first tournament as captain © Getty Images

How does one choose one moment from a decade worth of MS Dhoni assuming the unenviable triple-role of batsman, wicketkeeper, and the deadliest of them all, a captain of the Indian national cricket side? I can easily go for the obvious ones: the celebrations after World T20 2007 (or the nonchalance in the bus journey in Mumbai that followed), the transfixed gaze in the Mumbai night sky once that ball from Nuwan Kulasekara disappeared into oblivion, or the uncharacteristic leap in the air when James Tredwell swung and missed the last ball of Champions Trophy 2013. All three will remain cherished memories.

But that would be too easy. I chose to go for the first moment that made me realise this man was special. It was certainly not the first match he led, the anticlimactic World T20 match against Scotland that had no play after the toss. Trust Dhoni to get his career as captain to a start like that.

The next match involved the first bowl-out in a World T20 that involved Robin Uthappa, of all people, hitting the stumps, taking his cap off, and bowing with a flourish. This was followed by a defeat against New Zealand and a win over England that had little to do with Dhoni: it is difficult to lose a T20I after three men get to fifty (it was not repeated till 2016), one of whom hit six sixes in an over. South Africa, of course, did not need much cajoling: they choked themselves into submission.

Did I notice Dhoni till then? No. I did not look into his clever bowling changes in the South Africa match keenly. I was busy exchanging witty one-liners on Orkut about South Africa’s absurd hara-kiri.

The semi-final against Australia took place two days after the South Africa match (and two days before the final). In a match preview on Cricinfo (the merger with ESPN had not taken place till then), Ravi Shastri had predicted an Indian defeat.

There is no point going into a vivid description of what happened in the match. There are too many videos online, and that is not the point of the topic anyway. To cut things short, Yuvraj Singh played an innings that would have put his England carnage into shame: that 30-ball 70 has few parallels in 20-over cricket. India got to 188 for 5.

Matthew Hayden got Australia off to a brilliant start. Andrew Symonds kept the flow going. At 60 from 36 Australia seemed to be cruising, but the Indian bowlers kept taking crucial wickets. Australia were left to score 22 off the last over after an excellent 19th over from RP Singh.

Dhoni tossed the ball to Joginder Sharma, who had figures of 2-0-31-0 at that point. He had little option, for he had taken the gamble of getting his specialists to bowl out. To his credit, Joginder conceded a mere 6. The match was won.

As was (is, and will remain for some time) the norm, Shastri was there at the post-match presentation ceremony. Adam Gilchrist lauded the Indian performance, especially the bowlers. Then he turned to Dhoni.

And the newest Indian captain started off on a slightly different note before moving on to specifics regarding the match: “Before I start I should say I read an article by you in Cricinfo. You had said Australia were the favourites. Today I think me and the boys, we proved you wrong.”

Boom!

The gift of the garb, if you ask me, is not a requisite for all. However, it is essential for leaders to communicate well, to his team members or for them.

On the other hand, while empty words can take you some distance, you will invariably run out of fuel before long.

In other words, Dhoni was a man who spoke after his job was done, but make no mistake, he would give it back; and invariably do that with a dry smile.

I had made up my mind at that point that Dhoni was the captain India needed.

Three ICC trophies, the No. 1 rank in Test rankings, one biopic and two abrupt decisions later, I suppose I had not gone too awry with my prediction.