MAHENDRA KING DHONI - THEN, NOW AND FOREVER.
‘Age is just a number.’ Over the years, this phrase has lost its essence in my view. Particularly in sport, where age can so easily catch up to even the most impeccable athletes. Seldom do we find sportsmen who actually defy the odds, and actually uphold what this line stands for. Even the great Sachin Tendulkar arguably failed in his attempt to defy age. Yet, at 41 years of age, I think it is safe to say that our very own ‘Thala’ MS Dhoni continues to dazzle and amaze every cricketing fanatic globally. Having completed 200 matches as captain of the Chennai Super Kings - the franchise that all of us grew up falling in love with primarily due to him, it made me ponder about what it is that’s so special about this wise owl with his discreet personality. Unsurprisingly, I don’t think there’s merely one answer to this question.
In more ways than one, Dhoni always embodied what Team CSK, and Chennai in general, wanted all along. The sport of cricket has not seen a cooler customer than MSD; finding the perfect balance between leading from the front and exerting his control over the team, and allowing his troops to express themselves freely. He was never the ‘ideal technical cricketer from the textbook’ - right from his developing days in Ranchi, Dhoni had an uncanny style of playing the game. As far away from the coach’s playbook as it gets, MS found a way to grind his path to success. There were few ideals that he always believed in, and Chennai will always trust these ideals of his. 1. Do the basics right and control the controllables - CSK was never known for its wild batting units or destructive bowling performances. They stuck to the basics and kept working hard. 2. Focus on the process rather than the result - Dhoni was never bothered about failures, provided the team was playing a brand of cricket that was process-oriented. 3. Nurture raw talent and bring about their growth in a gradual manner - Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ruturaj Gaikwad; the list of cricketers who grew under his guidance is endless. 4. Loyalty, experience, consistency - Since he began leading the side, Dhoni built a solid foundation of players as well as staff and management at CSK. There is a certain loyalty and faith in these personnel that hasn’t eroded over time. Four IPL titles, 5000+ runs while batting predominantly at No.7 or No.8, consistency in the management and team selection, all reflect the hidden rigidity in the simplicity of Dhoni’s leadership.
To put this into context, we asked some CSK faithful one simple question. Why is it that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not just so talented and popular, but also loved so deeply by the Whistle Podu Army?
Ajith, age 48. (MS Dhoni fan since the beginning of his career): “Just the adrenaline rush that you feel when Thala is at the crease is unmatched. He has an aura and charisma around that calmness which makes every Indian just go crazy when he steps foot on the field. He personified ‘calm before the storm’, and put CSK and India on the world map with so many fairy tale successes. We will always be grateful for the 2011 World Cup, and for his loyalty to our beautiful IPL franchise. The greatest of all time!”
Skanda, age 21. (Following IPL since Season-1): “His loyalty to the franchise and the city of Chennai is unmatched. Along with this, the fact that he has won the franchise so many titles not only in the IPL, but also in the Champions League T20. Mahi is the epitome of humility. He has proved it time and again with simple gestures like greeting the security guard and groundsmen, having a friendly relationship with his driver, treating his teammates with utmost respect and guidance, and so much more.”
Harshita, age 18. (CSK fan since 2010): “My Thalapathy’s gigantic sixes and thrilling finishes made me fall in love with him. I feel proud that he represents Chennai and its franchise. He does all his work in silence, and never tries to hog the limelight whatsoever. Yet, when he is on the field, nobody bats an eyelid. He is Captain Cool for a reason; his level-headed brand of cricket and glorious triumphs speak for themselves. Dhoni is not just a cricketer, he is an emotion!”
At least to me, and I’m sure to a plethora of others, Dhoni was the role model that made us believe in our dreams. Within the sport or outside of it, he taught us that no matter where we come from and how unorthodox our style is, we can reach exponential heights with passion, hard work and a meticulous mind. Make the people around you better, and they will make you a better person - that’s what MSD thrives on. As for our Thala, the whole of India just wants to see his last dance end in another terrific success. While Ravi Shastri’s iconic “Dhoni finishes off in style, a magnificent strike into the crowd,” echoes in our hearts till date, all we want is for MSD to sign off with another glittering flourish. Chepauk, the CSK family and India Yelloves you forever, Thala!