By Sidhanta Patnaik
Only if the toss had gone in his favour, only if the openers had stayed for long, only if the middle order had scored runs, only if the tail had delivered, only if the bowlers had stuck to one side of the wicket, only if had the umpire thought otherwise. A victory or a defeat in a game of cricket is separated by what if. At a time when Indian team’s inability to win Test matches overseas is being condemned, the man against whose name these defeats will be marked stands unperturbed. Rudyard Kipling may have breathed his last in 1936, but 76 years later MS Dhoni is doing his bit to introduce the great poet to a new generation of Indians.
Not that the resolve of his fabric was an unknown quotient. Chips in Kipling, “If you can make on heap of all your winnings / And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-loss.” On the night of the World Cup final, Dhoni risked the title by promoting himself above man of the tournament Yuvraj Singh in the batting order. It turned out to be a master stroke, like most of his other moves in the past, and he became an eternal marvel. His captaincy graph was ascending till July 2011 arrived.
Then in the northern hemisphere and now in the southern hemisphere his first major dip as a captain has been experienced. With every defeat the stakes have gone lower and reputation tarnished. Without styling his statements with a brush of defence that a 50-over World Cup and a T20 World Cup winner and India’s most successful Test captain can be excused to have, he has been rational about the state of affairs. When asked if Australia hands over a whitewash then would it hurt more than the one received in England he said, “You die, you die. You don’t see which is the better way to die.”
His demeanour allows an observer to believe that things are under control and the needlessness to worry about the result of a cricket match when there are far more critical issues to be tackled in the economy. That a man can carry a smile and add humour to his expressions when people with lesser credentials are questioning his stance tells about the man himself. His firmness and ability to view things in a matter-of-fact manner by design emanates a sense of poise. It is the minimum a captain can do when his team is not delivering.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same.” The statement is engraved for posterity on the walls of Wimbledon. Dhoni is another sportsperson who carries the meaning of equanimity in its true order.
“If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” Said Kipling. Not that all other Indian captains prior to him were irrational during difficult times, but either their face or their mind was easily readable and hardly had any of them so casually yet factually owned up the responsibility of defeat with an one liner . “I need to blame myself. I am the leader of the side. I am the main culprit so, of course, I blame myself.” His words have made a mockery of all open-ended speculations and must have surely calmed things down in the dressing room. It has set an example for the players who are expected to frontend the team after his departure.
Tactfully he diverted the media’s attention, “If I want to see the 2015 World Cup, I'll have to retire from one of the formats," and in it he showed his understanding of life outside the overvalued-bubble in which he operates. Dhoni’s deep connect with reality is a standout feature and for it he comes across as someone who can leave the game any time he wants to, on his own terms without ever regretting about it. In Kipling’s words, “Take everything you like seriously, except yourselves.”
Without doubt all the fame and adulation that comes along with his job must be his motivation, but Dhoni is skilfully aware that all this is not a matter of life and death. His veracity and charisma emerges in the fact that he still has a smell for the soil after the season’s first rain.
Forget the technicalities and his lack of it in overseas conditions but till he is out there in the middle his role is that of the unit’s leader. Not because he is a World Cup-winning one, but because of his faith in the moment. When more than half the nation is stuck either in the nostalgia of the past greats or have escaped themselves to the promises of the future glories someone needs to safeguard the present and keep the ball rolling. Dhoni does that.
(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sport marketing professional, public speaker and writes for Cricketcountry. His Twitter ID is @sidhpat)