‘I am not under any pressure’ – Dhoni
September 28, 2007
From being run out for a first-ball duck on his international debut against Bangladesh to being crowned the No.1 one-day batsman in the world last year, to a woeful run of form to the ODI captaincy now, it seems Mahendra Singh Dhoni has come a full circle.
“When I started playing cricket, I never dreamt of playing for India,” he said ahead of the series opener. “Then it was captaincy before going to the World Cup and now, it’s winning the [Twenty20] World Cup”.
Two weeks to the day that Rahul Dravid sent in his resignation letter Dhoni will captain him, a statement of his rise in Indian cricket and the confidence entrusted by the selectors. Rather than feel daunted at having to lead three former captains (Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly being the other two) Dhoni felt it would help him. “If you think about the experience that they have, having played over 300 ODIs each, it is amazing. There will be tough situations in this series and I’m glad I’ll be able to turn to them. And Yuvi [Yuvraj Singh] is also there. I don’t mind asking for suggestions.”
One journalist wasn’t convinced. But what of the significance of his being appointed captain? “Well it that says a lot about three captains being under me doesn’t it?” promptly came the answer.
The first thing you notice about Dhoni is his laidback demeanour and his sheer confidence ahead of perhaps the toughest test of his international career. He cut the tension with jovial remarks about whether he would accept the Test captaincy – “that depends on the offer” – on why he wouldn’t commit to batting first here, unlike in South Africa – “that was Twenty20 cricket” – to in response to Australia’s perceived verbal tactic ahead of a tough series – “I’m simply here to play good, aggressive cricket, not to have a chat”.
Dhoni’s game has been about being aggressive, and this reflected in his captaincy at the World Twenty20 as well. Crucially, he seems to know his own strengths as a player and that, he feels, works out well in his decision-making. “I think being a wicketkeeper is an advantage. You have the plus points of arranging the field and seeing how the batsman is playing, what sort of wicket it is. And of course, what the bowler is doing. Standing at cover or mid-off it gets a bit tough to know if that was a good ball or not.”
For Dhoni the key to doing well was not to depend on individuals, a trait which has both helped and dogged India over the years. “Cricket is a team game where all 15 players matter,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s about putting it all together and that was the key factor in the Twenty20 tournament. See, we didn’t have Yuvraj but we still won a match in the Twenty20. It’s about getting the team’s collective strengths out.”
Dhoni also appears aware of what lies ahead and admitted India’s victory in South Africa was a thing of the past. In terms of skill, the longer a game goes the more skill gets exposed, and challenged. With the focus back to 50-over cricket it is critical for India that Dhoni manages his team-mates and manoeuvres his bowlers when the going gets tough. How quick he reacts with his decision-making is his litmus test.
Dhoni epitomises the maxim that you have to enjoy cricket and enjoy life, especially when the chips are down. He also epitomises a new breed of youth whose hunger is unbridled, and whose confidence stems from competition. He motivates himself, and that’s crucial. When he went through a slump he fought the pressure and hit back, and was later handed the captaincy of the Twenty20 and ODI sides.
Dhoni admitted during and after India’s run at the Twenty20 that there was no pressure on his side, as no one had expected them to do much anyway. But now, back home in front of a public whetted by India’s success in South Africa, in his first game as ODI captain, with the Test captain soon to be announced, and up against the best one-day side in the world, did he change his mind?
No came the emphatic answer, with a big grin and a spread of the arms. “I am not under any pressure.”
For now, India will take that.