Being instinctive is seen as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s best attributes but the man who has captained India to unprecedented highs in the last seven years reveals that his often talked about gut feeling is backed by cold logic.
In a rare interview on his 33rd birthday, Dhoni recollected the time he was made captain before the World Twenty20 in 2007, how he dealt with the senior players, his leadership style and how it is to shoulder the team of a cricket crazy nation.
Talking about the trait which helped him guide India to the No.1 Test sport, 2011 World Cup, 2007 World Twenty20 and most recently the Champions Trophy last year, Dhoni says he relies on his past experiences to act instinctively on the field.
“I don’t plan a lot and believe in my gut feel. But what many people don’t understand is that to have that gut feel, you have to have experienced that thing before,” Dhoni told the bcci.tv.
“For instance, you don’t know anything about bikes. I open one of my bike engines and keep it in front of you and ask you ‘which model does your gut feeling say this engine belongs to’, you will be clueless. You won’t have a gut feeling because you don’t know anything about the object there.
“My gut feeling comes from my past experiences of all the cricket I’ve played in my life and the situations I have faced. It’s not something you just feel for a moment without any logic,” said Dhoni, who faces one of the biggest challenges in his career when India take on England in the first of five Tests at Nottingham from July 9.
One could feel a lot of pressure as a leader in the presence of seniors in the dressing room, something Dhoni had to deal with when Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were around. But now he leads a side in transition.
“The best thing about the senior players was that with their experience they had a lot of ideas and suggestions to give me. But more importantly, if I didn’t agree with some things they said, I could tell them so.
“They were absolutely fine with it and after 10-15 minutes would again come up with a different idea or options and then leave it to me, give me a few deliveries to think about it and decide.”
“That really gave me the comfort of knowing that I can be honest and straightforward with them without the fear of offending them.
Because of them I was able to be myself and develop my own style of captaincy,” Dhoni said lauding the “Big Four”.
How are things now? “Right now the situation is very different. Although I am leading a young team, I don’t like to give a plan that the bowler is not comfortable implementing. So I let the bowlers start off with their own plan and own fields and encourage them to think for themselves.”
He is one of biggest of names in world cricket but seven seasons ago not many would have thought that the wicketkeeper-batsman would achieve what he has and possibly there is more to come with the 50-over World Cup early next year.
Dhoni admitted he was surprised at his elevation and said Tendulkar played a role in it.
“It did (surprise me), because I was never really aiming for captaincy. For me, being a part of the team is much more important than being the captain.”
On Tendulkar’s role, he said, “I think it was more about the interactions that I had with them. For instance, whenever Sachin came on to bowl – and because he could bowl so many different deliveries – he would ask me what the best ball would be – seam-up, leg-spin, off-spin – depending on the wicket and the batsman. Perhaps the honest opinions I gave him at these points made him believe that I read the game well.”
How does he rate the big trophies India have won under his captaincy?
“I don’t think I will ever be able to pick one and say, ‘this is the closest to my heart’. They all are,” said Dhoni.
Last but not the least, he gave a sneak peek into what he plans to do post his playing days.
“The good thing is that I do collect a lot of stumps but the bad one is I don’t put a mark as to which match they were from. So, after I retire I’ll watch the videos of all my matches, look closely at the sponsors logos on the stumps and figure out which match a stump belongs to. It will be my post-cricket pass time!”