His long curls and power-hitting- A favorite among the masses and the former Pakistan President
The mercurial cricketer continued to manage the controllable and on 23 December 2004- fifteen years to this very day- his dream [India’s too] was finally fulfilled when a long-haired, ever-smiling boy from Jharkhand made his debut for the country. And, as was the case when Kapil Dev made his debut, Indian cricket was not the same again! Dhoni’s long-hair was something you didn’t see in an Indian cricketer in those times. But, Dhoni was not any other Indian cricketer. He was different, and those long brown hair were symbolic of it.
Akash Chopra once recounted an incident when he had asked Dhoni in his India A days to trim those long curls, as such things do not bode well in Indian cricket. Dhoni’s reply was symbolic was his personality. He said something to the tune of “Maybe everyone will emulate his style one day”.
And, it didn’t take much time for that to happen. The charismatic and swashbuckling hammered the opposition bowlers to the tune of 148 and 183 within the first 12 m0nths of his ODI debut before shellacking Pakistan in their own den in the Winter of 2005-2006, to become a folk hero.
And, not only among the masses, even former President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf was hell impressed with his batting and his long curls. So-much-so that Musharraf even requested Dhoni to not chop his long hair when he said, “You look good in this hair-cut! Don’t get a hair-cut.”
Dhoni’s calm demeanor brought in a sea of change in Indian cricket
2007 was a critical year in Dhoni’s cricketing career. After having failed with the bat in India’s dismal 50-over World Cup campaign, the wicketkeeper-batsman was named the national sides’ captain for the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. As mentioned earlier, Dhoni was an ordinary Indian cricket.
He had a flamboyance to die for but at the same time, he has steely temperament coupled with the gift of analyzing the game-situation perfectly and staying incredibly calm in situations where even the best crack. And, the first example of that was the World Twenty20 in 2007. A fearless young unit-led by their cool-and-calm captain did the unthinkable as they went on to become the T20 World Champions and MSD’s decision to give Joginder Sharma the final over is now a part of folklore.
Dhoni brought with himself a lot of calm- especially as a leader- something that used to be missing in Indian cricket in high-pressure encounters. Not only was he a cool-and-calm figure as a leader, but he was also one of the best finishers between the period 2006-2015 which again brought his demeanor into the picture.
And, we started winning tournaments. The 2007 T20 World Cup heist was followed by the 2011-World Cup win at home and the 2013 Champions Trophy win in England. His calm demeanor and the unrelenting desire to lead from the front was on full hilt during the 2011 World Cup when he decided to promote himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh, and possibly played one of the most important innings ever played by an Indian to break the 28-year-drought and lead the Men in Blue to an elusive 50-over World Cup on home soil on that night of April 02, 2011.
A leader who showed trust in his youngsters and focussed on building a team and the two images that’ll define Indian cricket this decade
There is a reason why the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma, and many other Indian cricketers of the current generation say the Dhoni will always be their leader. MSD believed in giving his youngsters a long rope. He believed in making a team, and you can’t make a team if you are constantly chopping and changing players.
And, Dhoni thrived on persisting with the players that he had faith in. The likes of Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma were very inconsistent when they burst onto the scene. But, Dhoni persisted with them. He slotted Rohit Sharma at the top of the order in One-day Cricket in 2013 at a time when his form didn’t warrant him a place in the set-up. But, Dhoni persisted with the Mumbaikar. And, the rest, as they say, is history!
Out of all the trophies that Dhoni won as a leader, the 2013 Champions Trophy has got to his most special achievement, purely because he did not only win that tournament with the players that he nurtured and backed, but that win also laid the cornerstone of the current Indian limited-overs set-up. Since that 2013 win, India has struggled to breach the final barrier and Dhoni’s fortunes as a batsman too waned as the decade progressed.
And, for me, two moments that will best define the past ten years as far as Dhoni and Indian cricket is concerned are- Dhoni’s six to win the World Cup in 2011 and his heartwrenching run-out in the 2019 edition.
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