Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The biggest name in Indian cricket bar Sachin Tendulkar. His rise to the top is nothing short of extraordinary, scaling heights in a manner that would make any rock climber blush. Literally he went from zero to the top in five years, and on the way acquiring magic powers that no other cricketer can boast:
- Choosing when to play (in order of revenue).
- Choosing where to bat (#3 if the score is 200-1, #7 otherwise for a guaranteed not-out).
- Halting a review system that the entire cricketing world embraced.
- Turning a god awful slap into a famous "helicopter shot".
- Starting a hairstyle trend.
- Being immune to criticism and the axe.
- Being the only captain allowed to keep the same IPL team (hence winning).
- Getting umpires fired at will.
There is no denying one thing, Dhoni is a very shrewd character. With well thought out batting promotions, deadpan media interviews and a controversy free life outside cricket, he managed to climb his way to the very top of everybody's praise list. Proudly he stands at the top of Everest while other more worthy cricketers tried and failed at hill tops.
Lets take a ride of the Dhoni Rollercoaster and experience the meteoric rise (and fall).
Dhoni announces himself as a young buck with a mullet and a ferocious bat swing, clubbing a fun filled 148 off 123 deliveries, and that too against Pakistan. The very definition of raw batting, and being a wicket-keeper, that's Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik in the dustbin.
The realist says: Hah check this guy out! If he really can keep wickets, then he'll have a bright career as our own Mark Boucher. Good signs.
That same year Dhoni makes mince of Vaas, Murali and friends with a bulldozing 183 off 145 deliveries, including an astonishing ten sixes. Tendulkar made 3 that day, his presence barely registering as Dhoni scooped up the man of the series award and a contract with the BCCI. He's here to stay.
The realist says: Hmm that was a double century beckoning, thwarted only by lack of runs for the chase. Maybe we have a serious limited overs weapon here, albeit an India-only one.
Dhoni #1 in ODIs!
After bashing around the Pakistani's yet again, this time in lower order match winners, Dhoni marched onto the #1 ranking in one-day internationals. There is no looking back now for the wonder boy from Jharkhand.
The realist says: What the heck, how did that happen? Boy do these ICC rankings change quickly, suddenly he is a better batsman than Ponting! Lets just mention that out of his first 43 games, a convenient 5 were outside of the sub-continent batting friendly pitches. A few more overseas tours and things will level out.
Captain Dhoni to the Rescue!
The young guns of India rally and defeat the very best of the twenty 20 world and take away their first world cup since the famous 1983 victory. Dhoni was the man in charge, and with the help of Yuvraj Singh's bat, RP Singh's swing and a ridiculously dumb Misbah-ul-Haq shot, a young India won in grand style. Dhoni was hailed a hero, and finally we have a captain!
The realist says: Whoa now hang on a minute, Dhoni contributed little to nothing with the bat, and took HUGE gambles which through sheer luck paid off (Joginder Sharma is rubbish). By a combination of injuries and selection woes, in other words, purely by process of elimination, he got the job. You can't be serious about him taking over as captain? This is T20 cricket!
Dhoni Defeats The Mighty Aussies!
For the first time, ever, India take home the CB series in Australia led by the inspirational Dhoni. He promoted himself on various occasions and chipped in with sensible singles, putting to bed the Dhoni of old who would try and blast the bowling into oblivion. Great maturity and class to help bring down the mighty cricketing empire, in their own back yard.
The realist says: Granted that Dhoni helped out here and there, it was Gambhir and Sachin who really played the crucial hands. This was an impressive landmark victory, but it had a lot to do with the ageing Australia contributing to their own downfall with a tired performance. Dhoni's timing to become captain was truly immaculate, luck!
Dhoni ICC ODI Player of the Year - For Two Years!
There is no better limited overs cricketer than Dhoni in 2008 and 2009, mastering the art of switching between dynamic aggression and controlled finishing, he has become the new Michael Bevan of cricket. Add to that a great test record including four centuries, truly our best wicket-keeper batsman in history!
The realist says: Here's a fun fact, only around 30% of his ODI's are played outside of the subcontinent, and less than half the test matches. Here's another one, Dhoni has never scored a century outside Asia, in any format, ever. Definitely a decent player but bit of a stretch to call him number one in the world.
Dhoni leads India to #1 Test Ranking!
For the first time ever India has a formidable test team. Actually managing to win a few overseas tests, they secured some important results in England, New Zealand and South Africa, and of course beating the Australians *once again* at home. Dhoni is the perfect captain with an unbeaten test record, and life is good.
The realist says: Lets not forget that the Australians are falling apart like a house made of hay. Admittedly the Indians are playing good test cricket and deserve their ranking, but the real heroes are the Laxman's and Dravid's who time and again have saved them from the dead. At one time there were four ex-captains in the team with Dhoni, who really is just a happy passenger.
Dhoni wins the World Cup!
Finally, undisputed champions of the ODI world! Dhoni's place in the hall of fame is all but guaranteed as he lifted the World Cup for the second time in India's history. The road to the final included beating defending champions Australia and the red hot Pakistani and Sri Lankan teams. There is no question that in the reins of Dhoni, life is a million bucks (literally). Bring on England!
The realist says:
Apart from the final where he stole Yuvraj Singh's job (another shrewd self promotion folks), his other major contributions to the cup was complaining about the DRS system and being the first guy to the podium. For goodness sake can we stop attributing *everything* to him!
Dhoni leads an unfit and unprepared bunch to the English shores, chock full of opposition players brimming with skill and confidence, and a hunger to be number one. What followed as a 4-0 drubbing so ridiculous, so embarrassing that not one excuse washed with anybody, even the Indian media. There is a gentle hush around Indian cricket, suddenly Ravi Shastri has nothing to say and everyone sits back in suspended disbelief. All that build up for this massive anticlimax?
The realist says: Feeling the pinch of gravity are we?
What lies ahead?
After that fierce ride up, Indian cricket is zooming back down at breakneck speeds, Dhoni in the front seat. Will it rush back up and meeting more twists and corkscrews? Or will the rollercoaster continue to run its course and come to a crashing halt?
Dhoni is by no means a poor cricketer, he is at best a decent keeper with good temperament and the ability to play a useful innings in helpful batting conditions. Yet instead, he has propelled himself to all sorts of heights and achievements.
Luck my friends, and a lot of it. The true test of his rollercoaster ride is about to begin.
All stats courtesy of Cricinfo.com
All images courtesy of Getty Images and AFP