“…In the air… and Sreeshanth takes it! India wins!”
These words spoken by Ravi Shastri from the commentator’s box as India won the maiden T20 International World Cup in 2007, beating Pakistan in an absolute thriller, are now etched in the memories of billions of cricket fans all across the world. Led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a young Indian brigade proved the pundits wrong by winning the series and writing an unforgettable underdog story.
Every cricket fan would remember the name Joginder Sharma, the bowler who got Misbah Ul-Haq out in the fateful over. But not many would remember questioning Dhoni’s decision to give him the bowl at the ‘do-or-die’ moment.
The all-rounder, who is currently holding the post of Deputy Commissioner Police, Haryana, was an unknown player at the time. Experienced spinner Harbhajan Singh had one over left. The fans had a mini heart attack when they saw the skipper giving the bowl to Sharma instead of the veteran. Three bowls later, Misbah played an unconvincing scoop, only for S Sreesanth to take the pressure catch. Call it a ‘gamble’ or a ‘masterstroke’, India lifted the trophy on September 24 2007 because of Dhoni’s decision.
Four years later, a similar ‘gamble’ by MS Dhoni earned India its first ODI World Cup victory in 28 years. Chasing the total of 275, India found itself in a spot of bother after losing three wickets with 114 runs on the board. Dhoni, who had a below average tournament promoted himself at No. 5 in the batting order, over Yuvraj Singh, who was enjoying a tremendous series. The Skipper played a Captain’s knock, scoring 91* in 79 deliveries. As Dhoni hit the winning six off Nuwan Kulasekara’s bowl, Ravi Shastri said from the commentary box,”Dhoni finishes off in style… a magnificent strike into the crowd… India lifts the World Cup.”
That was the ‘Mahi way’. In his nine years of Captaincy, Dhoni had the guts to back himself with tough decisions on the pitch, and off it, without worrying about the consequences. This is ‘Captain’s Cool’ most important lesson to all the future Captains- the one that won his side three ICC trophies in limited overs cricket.
Dhoni had to bear the brunt of the fans and ire of the media when his “gut” feeling failed to give him the desired results. In a country like India, where cricket is religion, it could be difficult for anyone to not feel the pressure when making a tough captain’s call. But Dhoni never backed away from giving his opinions. From team selection to batting order; from field settings to bowling changes, Dhoni ensured his team and the management trust his “instincts”.
As India bids farewell to its most successful Captain, the new leader in charge (possibly Virat Kohli), must be ready to make tough decisions for the team, if and when the situation demands- the first one might be to decide whether MSD still has a role to play in India’s new era of limited overs cricket.