Mahendra Singh Dhoni has impressed almost everybody along the way in his glorious career. Among these, the quick-witted detected the mettle in the dashing player from Ranchi to take on the challenges even as he was establishing permanency in the Indian team in the early years of the new millennium.
Many were excited about his hairstyles that have been as different from a long flowing hair to a crew cut, but to the cricketing faithful, it was always about his cricket in which he excelled as a hitter and a stumper. And, as a captain.
Recently, the cricket authorities in India nominated the most famous cricketer from the East Zone in nearly two decades as mentor to the Indian team for the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup. Former India player Ajay Jadeja has been perplexed by the BCCI decision to bring Dhoni into the scheme of things for the global event in October-November.
But Sanjay Jagdale, the former national selector from Central Zone (Indore) who was part of the selection committee including Dilip Vengsarkar, Venkatapathy Raju, Ranjib Biswal and Bhupinder Singh that named Dhoni as captain for the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in September 2007, and also a former BCCI secretary, believes that Dhoni has the achievements and qualities to contribute to the Indian team for an important multi-team event in the Emirates.
Jagdale averred that Dhoni has clarity of thought and immense confidence in the decision he takes. “He is cool and reads the game very well, the situations, the opposition and the conditions. Especially in Twenty20. I will never forget the 2007 World Cup in South Africa. I was in London as selector for the series against England. We picked a new team with Dhoni as captain.”
When Jagdale told Dhoni that it’s a young and new team, he was stunned by the response from the new captain. Recalling the short conversation he had with Dhoni, Jagdale said: “The first time he is named the captain, and he said: Sir, hum World Cup jeet ke ayenge (We will return with World Cup). I can never forget these words from him. He was not casual at all, he looked very confident about what he said. And India won the World Cup.”
On another occasion, Jagdale, who has played 53 first-class matches for Madhya Pradesh, Central Zone and Indian Universities, was struck by an incident during India’s 50-over World Cup match against Sri Lanka at Port of Spain in 2007. “I was the selector and manager. And, I was watching the match with the coach Greg Chappell. Dhoni was padded up and sitting on the staircase. When Muttiah Muralitharan began to bowl round the wicket. I just mentioned to Greg if his ‘doosra’ will be effective bowling from round the wicket. Dhoni told me in Hindi; “Sir, mai aapko yahan se bata doonga, about his doosra (I will tell you from here). And Dhoni explained.”
After Dhoni went to bat, Chappell asked what Dhoni had said in Hindi. “I told him about the conversation between me and Dhoni and immediately Greg told me: “Sanjay, he (Dhoni) is your future captain. And he did become the India captain with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly withdrawing from the Twenty20 World Cup. I will never forget this incident,” remembers Jagdale, an interesting event during India’s dismal campaign in the West Indies.
Jagdale does not know the specifics of the role Dhoni will play during the Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE. “But one thing I know is that Dhoni has excellent rapport with Virat (Kohli). Definitely. He will add something to the team with his experience and knowledge.”
Jagdale vividly remembers an incident that took place in Nagpur in the match against Australia in March 2019. “This was before the World Cup in England. I was watching the match from a position that was behind long off and by the side of the sight screen. We were ten of us from Indore in the gallery. That was my first international match in three or four years.
“Marcus Stoinis was batting brilliantly and Virat was fielding at long-off, just in front of us. And I could hear Dhoni shouting Chiku (Virat’s nickname) and asking him to shift 15 to 20 feet towards extra cover. This was a remarkable incident with Dhoni asking the India captain (Virat) to move. Virat had no issues with it. He just moved. This is the respect and rapport they have. Even before Dhoni became the captain, all players had a good equation with Dhoni. I even explained to my friends about what happened on the field and the respect the players have for Dhoni.”
Jagdale trailed off saying that Dhoni is an excellent reader of the game and his presence will be very useful to the team.