The final Six

MS Dhoni – the Master of Methodical Madness

MS Dhoni decided to hang up his boots yesterday after a long and slow decline in his cricketing outputs. It was the COVID pandemic that ensured that we MSD fans don’t get a farewell inning from Mr Cool Captain.

MSD’s cricketing career has been defined by a streak of what I call “Methodical Madness”. He burst on to the scene with a squash buckling century against Pakistan at Vishakhapatnam. Later on, he went to make many more scores that elated the country – like the 183 against Sri-lanka. Perhaps even during these early days, his nerves of steel were often on display, especially during the Indo-Pak ODI series in 2006 , when Dhoni and Yuvraj chased 2 big scores with almost serene calmness that later became Dhoni’s signature.

India in Pakistan 2006

After Dhoni became the captain of a young Indian team for the inaugural T20 World cup, India and Pakistan, both underdogs went into the final against the run of play. The final was a close-fought contest which had truly swung into Pakistan’s favour owing to a splendid inning by Misbah-Ul-Haq. Going into the final over, Pakistan needed 13 from 6 but with the momentum truly in Pakistan’s favour. India had only 2 bowling options, the offspinner Harbhajan Singh and the slower than Shahid Afridi medium-pacer – Joginder Sharma. Harbhajan who had seen 3 sixes fly past him from the blade of Misbah, was not given the final over. Dhoni threw the ball to Joginder. After hitting a clean six, Misbah the last man standing, holed out to S.Sreesanth standing at short fine leg. Throwing the ball to the mediocre (no offence) Joginder looked a gamble, but for Dhoni, it was a calculated risk. Misbah had the bad habit of trying unorthodox shots when none were needed, and such shots are riskier to execute against the bowling of medium-pacers with the old white ball. MSD backed his brains, not his instincts in my opinion.

Subsequently, MSD became the captain of India in all formats and the next four years were arguably the best period of Indian cricket. India won the CB series in Australia and many more under MSD.  MSD became the full-time test captain against Australia at Nagpur in 2009 when his tactical and ruthless brain was tested the longer format. Facing a daunting challenge on day 3, MSD fielded an unorthodox 8-1 field and asked Zaheer and Ishant to bowl outside off stump to frustrate the Aussie batters, reminiscent of the tactics deployed by Naseer Hussain against Tendulkar in Bangalore a decade ago.

Cricinfo commented :

It came through in the tactics he employed as well. There had been scathing comments made about the 8-1 fields and wide bowling on the third morning, but there was tacit acknowledgement from Ricky Ponting that he would have loved it if his bowlers could have exercised similar control. Dhoni may have re-ignited debates about the spirit of cricket and a win-at-all-costs mentality, but as far as the team was concerned, eight wickets for 166 runs in a full day on a batsman-friendly pitch was nothing to sneeze at.

These four years firmly established Dhoni at the helm of a confident cricket team which went into the 2011 World cup as favourites. Dhoni had a very quiet world cup till the final. At the crucial stage, after the fall of Kohli’s wicket, MSD took another unorthodox decision. He promoted himself (out of form self) ahead of the in-form Yuvraj. What followed was arguably the finest inning of MSD’s career. He cut Muralidharan to the boundary with disdain and ran like a robot in between the wickets. Not burdened by his dismissal against Australia at a bad stage for India, Dhoni continued hitting uppish square cuts, but now they went either into the gaps or over the fielders and not in hands of fielders (as had happened against Australia). It didn’t occur for a fraction of second that MSD would get out before winning the cup. And he didn’t. He finished the game in the most flamboyant and Dhonish manner possible – with a straight-six. Had this risk not paid off, Dhoni would have had to listen to severe criticisms for the rest of his life, but the risk paid off. It was never a gamble. Dhoni, a right-hander, who was a better player of spin than Yuvraj was the tactically correct choice to face Murali – no matter his form.

As the years went by, MSD continued taking decisions as a captain which were firmly outside the established norms. His captaincy has been at its tactically best in the IPL, where he has led the Chennai super kings to 3 trophies. His run chasing prowess when combined with the clinical finesse of Virat Kohli resulted in a number of spectacular victories for the Indian cricket team.

Dhoni also earned himself a reputation of almost letting the match get out of his hand before salvaging it calmly in the final over. However, as the years went by such victories became fewer and fewer. 2019 World cup had two matches where Dhoni was accused of letting the match get out of hands by angry fans. And the fans had a point, brisk run-scoring was becoming difficult for an ageing Mahendra Singh Dhoni and it was leading to bad outcomes for the team.

Dhoni’s test career is certainly the least decorated, both as a batsman and as a captain.  His methodical madness has failed to make as much mark in the longer format of the game as they have made in the shorter formats. Dhoni in the aftermath of 2011 World cup victory, went on to lead India to eight straight loses – in England and Australia. In the longer format of the game, strategies are more important than smart tactics.

However, in the latter half of his career, Dhoni improved his wicket-keeping beyond the expectations of even his wildest fans. The stumpings he carried out, where he literally waited for the batsman to fall over before disturbing the stumps, are INSANE. His No look runouts are even better disguised and executed than Kumara Sangakara. His tactical assistance of spinners – especially Kuldeep and Chahal, makes these bowlers lethal in one day cricket.

When cricket returns to India, Dhoni will not be seen in the national colours. But luckily for his fans, he will continue to participate in the IPL – whenever it returns.  Let’s hope we continue to witness the methodical madness of this cool man from Ranchi who transitioned Indian cricket team from challengers to champions.


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23 thoughts on “MS Dhoni – the Master of Methodical Madness”

  1. I am not a cricket person but so many beautiful memories of this lionheart. What a great sportsman! Memories of him hammering Sri Lankans (183 not out) in Jaipur 2005 are flashing in-front of my eyes. What a beautiful person on and off the field, a role-model for hundreds of millions of kids who grew up watching him.

    I will always remember him, MS Dhoni, the gentleman captain, who won for us the Test-Mace, T20 WC, One-day WC and Champions trophy.

  2. I used to be a cricket fanatic as a kid. By the time Dhoni arrived, I was winding down my obsession.

    The 2007 T20 world cup was one of my last and fondest cricket memories.

    There was a juice shop near my house which had a tv and almost 50 people would cram there, spilling out on to the streets to watch the matches.

    The final must have seen upto a 100 folks in pin drop silence before that Joginder Sharma ball to Misbah. And then sudden eruption.

    I remember that England match pretty well as well. One of my friends was annoyed with Broad. So he publicly pronounces that Yuvraj Singh would hit at least 5 sixes in the next over. The dude fucking goes on to hit 6 of them. The friend was then crowd surfed on the street.

    1. When Yuvi hit those sixes , i never expected that lanky lad Broad will go one to become a modern day great himself.

      1. I didn’t expect either Broad or James Anderson to have reached the levels of success they did.

        1. I suspected Anderson would be a greater bowler than McGrath ( he is not as great as McGrath imho atleast outside England) but Broad was a total surprise.

          Anderson’s ability to master the Duke and SG ball was apparent very early even though he wasn’t particularly successful early on.
          As a Indian I was always scared when Anderson came into ball, especially when Sachin was facing him. Similar to what I felt when McGrath came on. Don’t remember that feeling for anyone else – even Dale Steyn.

          1. Anderson just stretched it out. By taking care of his body, concentrating on test matches, he just got better by extending his career. Not trying to do fancy stuff. So his in not really a surprise. A very classic old workhorse bowler of pre IPL era.

            Broad is the real surprise though, he is so vanilla that one can;t even remember him in the host of just another lanky white English bowler who have come and fallen off the wayside. Especially considering that we is also of the pre- English cricket revolution era. An era where it was looking that English cricket will soon become the sports of brown people as whites were increasing switching off. For him to persevere and become better is just a joy to watch, especially considering how bad he was earlier.

  3. The cricket association structure in India must be commended for having allowed such an unorthodox and committed player from a small town with middle class trappings (he was a ticket collector) to rise to the very top!

    Dhoni repaid the favour in full measure to India, not in cricketing accomplishments, but in the confidence that small Indians may invest in the dream that hard work may be sufficient to overcome accidents of birth.

    Indian cricket, Dhoni and society can all rest in confidence today that the many indestructible bonds of belief and connections formed will outlast these few years. I feel very special to have had a front seat at the TV!!!

    There are many sectors and fields in India which do not allow a small Dhoni to come up. When this spirit pervades to all of them, that will be a sight to see!

    1. Ugra write – “The cricket association structure in India must be commended for having allowed such an unorthodox and committed player from a small town with middle class trappings (he was a ticket collector) to rise to the very top!”

      For close on a hundred years, Indian cricket was dominated by the city folks and the elites. Yes, there were exceptions such as P. Balu and his brothers who also left their mark. However, it was the educated elite from major metros who were the overwhelming majority of test and first class cricket teams. As were those who decided their fate – the selectors, managers, and coaches. [In some sense they were the “Brahmins” of Indian cricket, just for Razib’s benefit ;-)]

      But the advent of big money and fame started to change all that. Cricketers assumed the status of demigods. Liberalization of the Indian economy and the Indian Premier League unleashed forces that swept away this old hierarchy. Now all that mattered was who could deliver on the field and who could attract the crowds – raw talent, skill, and sheer guts. It was at such a moment that Dhoni steps into the limelight. A decade before very unlikely that a bus conductor hailing from a small town could have dreamt of becoming a cricket star, unless it was in a Bollywood movie.

      More power to the likes of M S Dhoni! A symbol of the emerging India.

    1. Indian
      A corner of a foreign field – ram Guha
      Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians: The On and Off the Field Story of Cricket in India and Beyond – boria Mazumder

      Sachin Tendulkar: The Man Cricket Loved Back
      Book by Espn Cricinfo

    2. “Any good books on history of cricket?”

      Our old friend Ramchandra Guha has written one.

      ‘A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport’

      I have not read it but my friends who have tell me he is a better cricket historian than a general historian of India.

      “No idea what’s going on”

      Mahendra Singh Dhoni is one of India’s most successful cricket captain. Last week he announced his retirement from international cricket. It’s an end of an era of sorts.

      He was born in Ranchi and had an unorthodox beginning for a cricketer – small town upbringing when most cricketers used to be from Bombay/Delhi/Bangalore/Baroda; started as a soccer goalie; became a ticket collector in Indian railways before hitting fame in mid-2000s.

      He embodied a daring spirit – riding superbikes, jumping from IAF planes, gambling with unconventional strategies during matches.

      This resonated with a large section of cricket loving population and reflected the growing confidence of the nation as Ugra has pointed out above.

      1. I tend to like Guha’s prose even on politics ( though I see the point some commentators make these days).
        His cricket writing is very fine though – and uncontroversial as well – even his columns on cricket are good

        1. I don’t like his political writing because he rarely engages with the substance of the debate. Instead he uses his authority as the biographer of Gandhi and a historian of independent India to rely on arguments like ‘Gandhi would have said this…’ or ‘Nehru would have felt that…’

          These are all unfalsifiable. And this kind of psycho-analysis suffers from genetic fallacy. Like when Ben Shapiro says the founding fathers wanted this or that.

          I find Tharoor to be a more substantive liberal.

          1. That’s a fair criticism but more applicable to columns,tweets,talks (objective) less to long prose like India after Gandhi ( which suffers from other oversights) .
            Some of his essays on cricket, environment, food n music are really good in my opinion.

            In other words- when you take the politics out it makes ppl better writer

          2. IMO, all liberal writers whether Guha or Tharoor when they write on politics are mostly same and “rarely engages with the substance of the debate” , very superficial. Because they have to support a Congress world view which was neither too radical enough for the Left/Dalits nor too right wing enough for Hindu right. So their writings gets attacked by either side.

            Inherently they know that Congress just struck lucky with Gandhi assassination, so they try to exaggerate both “Founding fathers” liberalism and competency , and try to paint a rosy picture of India of old, because that;s what they want India( and the Congress) to return to.

  4. My first memory is 2006 (WI or PK) test series, with hair longer than the helmet, where he came in late and was hitting it over the boundary. My cousin told me legends about how he drinks 4L milk a day (you know, as we do).
    My final memory is the six that won the World Cup – haven’t seen a single game since.
    Pure joy in-between.

  5. To be honest I am glad that he has retired. I liked Dhoni in the early years of his career but since the 2011 tour of England when we lost 0-4 I lost respect for the guy and have never regained it. Being a world champion side and the no. 1 Test side going into the series, it was disheartening to see the abject surrender. The Indian side was clearly good enough to win the series but I dont know what happened. It was the 1st time I realised that Dhoni was far from a great captain as he appeared quite listless on the tour.

    To make matters worse, after the tour BCCI refused to investigate into the debacle saying everything was fine with the team. Within a few months we had the Australian tour against a greenhorn home side and we lost 0-4 once again. And what also went hand in hand was the lack of accountability of Dhoni in all this. All this clearly broke the spell of Dhoni for me.

    A few other things that followed later on only helped me keep the disdain for Dhoni. For example, he did not pick up Yuvraj for 2015 world cup in the final 16 or 18 for some inexplicable reason even though he was the main player responsible for the 2011 triumph. I mean he picked up players like Axar Patel, Stuart Binny and a few others, most of whom did not even get to play in the world cup. Was Yuvraj even worse than them ? It was quite ridiculous and I could understand the outburst of Yograj Singh that followed.

    In fact Dhoni has rubbed the wrong way many other cricketers like Gambhir, Laxman, Harbhajan etc as well.

    It is also worth mentioning that Ganguly nurtured quite a few young players like Yuvraj, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Raina, Gambhir, Sehwag etc who went on to become big players in their own right. What talents has Dhoni actually nurtured ? Can we name a single one ?

    I also found it rather ridiculous of him that he decided to quit Test Cricket much earlier than the other forms. It seemed like Test Cricket mattered little to him in the list of priorities. Funnily enough, even now he hasn’t quit the IPL. But to each his own.

    I also feel that Dhoni was more of a politician while I find Kohli much more dedicated, passionate, honest and sincere. I will definitely not miss Dhoni whatsoever.

    1. Rathod sa….humbly disagree

      On his test record, and y he quit test first

      “What he did in Test cricket was remarkable. He took his rustic game, the firm jab, the slash over point, and he squeezed more out of it than you would have thought possible. An average of 38 is excellent for someone who did as many squats behind the stumps as he did, for someone who had to be in the game always. It is very, very difficult to be a wicket-keeper, a captain and a batsman. He did it for 60 Tests. It was remarkable.

      Yes, it wasn’t his favourite format and that isn’t a crime. It is extremely difficult to captain India overseas for it means taking 20 wickets quickly enough. He didn’t have Anil Kumble, no Harbhajan Singh or Zaheer Khan at their peak; no J Srinath, even S Sreesanth and RP Singh had fallen off a cliff. Eventually, every Indian captain overseas is forced to play a waiting game. You can show bluster for a while, you can set attacking fields but the scoreboard always tells the story. If you can’t take 20 wickets, you can’t win and Dhoni never had that. Towards the end, it affected the way he led the side. We all become creatures of our experience. He knew too that it was time to let someone less wounded by overseas defeats to take over.”

      Lot of our memories are crowded by his failures in his latter half of the Captaincy. We shouldn’t forget Ganguly u compared him with even worse end to both captaincy and his career.

      1. Jaydeepsinh_Rathod,
        I see you point – but i agree more with Saurav,

        MSD never was a great captain in tests. On thing that cannot be ignored is MSD did not have spinners who could take 20 wickets from 2011- 2015. Pacers were patchy and when the batting was at a low from 2011-2015.

        The issue with delaying retirement is more a Indian thing than specific to Dhoni. Even Sachin delayed his retirement unnecessarily by 2 yrs. Same is true for Indians other than Dravid.

  6. Modi wrote a letter to Dhoni on his retirement.
    Dhoni was special, in a different sort of way, to think that a ticket collector from Kgp railway station who played at the nondescript railways stadium that I had passed so many times in my college years could lead India to world cup, will always bring a smile on my face.

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