from being the long-locked MS Dhoni to the grey-bearded commander, he has matured along with the shortest format of the sport © Getty Images
MS Dhoni has evolved as a captain and a player since India lifted the ICC World T20 2007. As India made it to their first semi-final at the World T20 since that victory in South Africa, Nishad Pai Vaidya looks at how Dhoni’s men have set things right this time.
Go back to the year 2007, when the first edition of the ICC World T20 was held in South Africa. Twenty20 was a baby, with an unknown potential and undiscovered excitement. But seven years down the line, it is a serious sport with different leagues taking shape all over the world. And if you ask Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, he can tell you all about it! “There are more media people over here you know, compared to there (in South Africa in 2007). There nobody came,” Dhoni said amidst a few laughs! Seven years since India won the inaugural T20 championship, this is the first time his side have made it through to the semi-finals.
When compared to the Dhoni of 2007, the man today is different, although he has the same composure and calm. Back then, he had those long locks that became a rage and today, he is wiser and older. “Yes, I have changed a lot. When I see a mirror, I see a lot of grey beard,” Dhoni said with a mischievous smile. It hasn’t been an easy ride for Dhoni all these years in the shortest format at the international level. In 2009 and 2010, India lost all their games in the Super Eights. In 2012, they won five out of their six games, but that one defeat cost them a spot in the semi-finals. But, this time, they sailed through and in some style: winning all their four games.
Dhoni looks back at the magic of 2007 with nostalgia. Yes, he has gone on to lift the ICC World Cup 2011, the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and the No 1 spot in the Test rankings. However, the first one is special as he led a young brigade to South Africa with no one giving them a chance. Dhoni said, “India had played only one T20 International (until then). Half the team came from England and the other half came from India. We did whatever we thought was the right way to do, to the extent that we used to practice bowl outs. It was fun and we ended up having bowl out at the time.”
Now T20 cricket is a different ball game as people are looking to win it. “In 2007, T20 was taken more in the joking way. They said, ‘Ok, have fun.’ They used to mic up players, talk to them. Now it is more intense. You don’t see people enjoying it. You play to win and batsmen play shots that nobody has heard about so far.” So, Dhoni’s fearless approach may have been complicated over the years with all those theories coming in to get the gameplans right. Then, it was to go out and enjoy and now there are talks and discussions about every intricate detail.
It isn’t that Dhoni lost the plot in T20 Internationals, but things just did not work for him in the World T20s. He already boasts of two Indian Premier League (IPL) titles and one Champions League T20 since then (with Chennai Super Kings). But, there is a different touch to it when you talk about playing for India. Dhoni did admit that the pressure is intense! Here is someone who doesn’t normally say that. The fans want nothing but victory and when it comes to T20 cricket, it isn’t all that easy as games change in a matter of overs.
As T20 cricket has evolved over the years, India perhaps did not fit into the mould at the highest level. There were a few chinks in the armous that always exposed them. This time, Dhoni has done well to use the conditions to his advantage. Playing the three spinners is a good strategy and how much has Amit Mishra’s inclusion changed things? It is with that positive mindset and momentum that India would move into the semi-finals.
Whenever India have been written off, they have roared back to stun critics. The World T20 2007 is a classic example and just last year, Dhoni’s men won the Champions Trophy with no one giving them a real chance. It was the same coming into this tournament with woeful form to back it. But, by winning four games, India have said they mean business and are two steps away from the big prize!
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(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)