With an over to go for the lunch break on Day Five at Lord’s, the demons of Johannesburg and Wellington must have returned to haunt M.S. Dhoni. Yet again, his young team seemed poised to let slip a grand opportunity of winning an overseas Test. Moeen Ali and Joe Root were not just batting England to safety, their partnership looked set to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But then, and for once, Dhoni decided to shed his safety-first philosophy and go for the jugular. He ordered Ishant Sharma, a bowler riddled with self-doubt, to shed his inhibitions and beat the English at their own game by bouncing them out. This was more than a captain inspiring his troops. This was a general launching a gung-ho strike on the opposition. The strike bowler responded to the captain and the result was a dramatic seven-wicket haul for Ishant and a first away win in over three years for India. More importantly, it was Dhoni’s break-free moment as a Test captain on foreign soil.
For far too long, Dhoni has remained a passive captain when away from home. He has been guilty of letting games meander along when situations have demanded him to be proactive. He has exhibited a fear of losing, and sided with caution even when victory has seemed within sight. In the shorter formats, Dhoni is rarely seen shying away from taking the game by the scruff of the neck. When it comes to Tests outside the subcontinent, however, he’s preferred to lead with a risk-free approach and feed on his opponents’ mistakes rather than go for the kill. At Lord’s, he morphed into Dhoni the T20 daredevil, prepared to take a punt on a self-devised tactic — of peppering the hosts with hostile short-pitched bowling — however risky. He also found the right man to execute his plans.
For the record, this was India’s first Test win overseas without Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble since 1989. Lord’s 2014 was more than just records and numbers, though. It was the coming of age of a young team, and more so of their inspirational captain.