When, some 15 years ago, a 38-year-old captained his team to the title at the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) many thought the cliché was true: this was the greatest player never to have captained his country.
Shane Warne may or may not have thought so, but as captain of that winning Rajasthan Royals team he played a dual role: as tactician and as father confessor. Australia didn’t see him as captaincy material, but the club did, and he repaid that faith.
It is a captaincy role that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has played with equal conviction. In his 250th IPL match, the final this week, he continued to be Chennai Super Kings’ leading on-field tactician and father confessor. His knowledge of the game matched his knowledge of his players. He knew when to move the square leg fielder to his left just as he knew when to ignore a player or give him a tough look.
When Deepak Chahal dropped danger man Shubman Gill early, Dhoni merely went back to his position behind the stumps, applauding the bowler (and possibly the fielder too for stopping runs).
It was easy to respect Dhoni’s age and experience, 41 and 538 international matches respectively. Respecting his attitude came with a mindset that saw sport as important but not really a matter of life and death. You made mistakes, you dropped catches, you ran partners out – such things happen. But if it happened thoughtlessly, the captain might have something to say. Otherwise he was happy to move on. When Dhoni moved on in these circumstances, the team did so too. Post mortems are for later, not during a match.
When Dhoni first led CSK to the title he was 28. It was the third edition of the IPL. The year before, a 38-year-old Adam Gilchrist had carried away the trophy for Deccan Chargers, the Hyderabad team. Is captaining an IPL team better left to the veterans who can see a fast-changing game from all angles? Or does it make more sense to have a “people’s” person since the tactics are being constantly updated by highly-paid former players in the dugout anyway?
Dhoni has now led his team to three titles after the age of 35. T20 might be a young man’s game, but it profits from having an older captain, someone the team looks up to and plays for. “Let’s do it for the captain,” is a good team policy, reflecting that much-touted quality, teamwork. Good captains can convert average teams into winning ones by treating players with respect and dignity and conveying the message that he is in their corner.
“This title is for Dhoni,” said Ravindra Jadeja whose 10 off the last two balls sealed the final for CSK. The opposition captain’s comments were even more telling. “I am very happy for Dhoni,” said Hardik Pandya whose Gujarat Titans had just lost a titanic final that finished at half past one on the third morning of the match (after the first day’s play was washed out). “I don’t mind losing to him. Good things happen to good people. I think he is one of the nicest people I have met.”
Warne and Dhoni are both iron-hand-in-a-velvet-glove type of captains, raising a player’s spirits when he is down and leaving him to come to terms with success on his own. It was Warne, after all, who named Ravindra Jadeja “rockstar”, not so much for his all-round cricket as for his attitude and inability to be on time. It fit the player either way, and the name stuck.
A great captain works towards making himself redundant over time since he has put the team philosophy in place and players know their job. It will be interesting to see if Dhoni will play the IPL next year, and if he doesn’t who will take over as captain. Ruturaj Gaikwad is the name doing the rounds, but there is something to be said for a mature player who is not battling for a place in the national team.
Warne left after four seasons, unable to find the winning magic again, and Rajasthan Royals haven’t won the title since that first year. So maybe there is a danger of reading too much into patterns!
Source : BBC