Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India's dream merchant


Staff member
Windsor Park July 7:

An officer in charge of one of Dominica's many forest reserves comes across as someone who wouldn't have seen much life outside the dense tropical forests here.

Soiled shorts, rugged shoes and a double barrel shotgun is all he has as he moves around in the jungles that make for the island's most cherished treasures. Alan Woodwick even has to hunt or fish by himself to survive and has nothing less than a Boa Constrictor for a pet.

Just when you're about to conclude that this man may not know much beyond life in the wild, he greets you with a name that he's as familiar with as you are, and as knowledgeable, perhaps, as one can be. "How is Dhoni?" Woodwick asks. "Say hello to him. He's my favourite cricketer," he says.

Woodwick likes what he's heard about Mahendra Singh Dhoni, mostly on the radio here because there's not much of reading for Woodwick to do. The skipper (Dhoni) "recently got married", his wife "proved lucky for him", he won the World Cup and he comes from a "small town", says Woodwick of India's most successful captain ever.

Long after you've left Woodwick behind and trundled out of the forest, his description of MS Dhoni gets you thinking. Why Dhoni? You begin to wonder. Why not Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly or Sunil Gavaskar?

Unlike Tendulkar, Dhoni can't play with a straight bat. Unlike Dravid, he doesn't have the technical efficiency of a proven Test batsman. Unlike Ganguly, Dhoni's not elegant. Unlike Gavaskar, he has not left a mark in the Caribbean islands either. But Woodwick, surprisingly, doesn't name them in his list of favourites.

Dhoni doesn't even make batting look good. How can a cricketer -- who doesn't move his feet at all, brings his bat down from the southwest and swings it to southeast for the ball to travel in some other direction altogether and is famous for a Helicopter Shot -- be someone's favourite? But Dhoni is, and he defies all logic.

Woodwick's cricketing hero makes you relate to the common man's idea of following an idol. The forest officer is no great cricket buff himself and, therefore, he doesn't really enjoy the subtle nuances of the game. He sees Dhoni as a successful captain who came from nowhere, with no exceptional talent, but led a bunch of world class cricketers to World Cup victory and world's No. 1 Test status. Dhoni gives the less-confident, average, small-town enthusiasts a lot to dream.

You have to be a born genius to become a Tendulkar or a Gavaskar; come from a big city like Kolkata to be a Ganguly and for fans to adore you. But not Dhoni... From Woodwick, you come to the conclusion how common men like to see their heroes in the same skin. The same evening, after meeting with Woodwick, one arrives at the Indian team's training session in Dominica's Windsor Park stadium where Dhoni is busy talking to coach Duncan Fletcher.

The two of them are busy animatedly discussing a cricketing shot -- something that resembles an off-side drive. You're quickly reminded of his last two dismissals in the Barbados Test, both times caught while trying to awkwardly drive and twice to the same bowler and fielder. The Indian skipper has managed just 23 runs in four innings in this series and has been left thoroughly exposed for lack of technique.

How can Woodwick pick Dhoni for a favourite? Dhoni's got other pressures to handle too. If his team doesn't complete its quota of overs in stipulated time in this Test, he'll find himself banned from the game at Lord's. Despite his frailties, Dhoni is successful -- a cricketer who fights many of his own little battles in between leading India into many significant wars. Dhoni's gracious to admit that he is what he is "because of a great team". The shorter formats are less demanding but when it comes to Tests, he's lacking.

Unlike Tendulkar, he's not blessed and unlike Dravid, he's not troubling the West Indies here with the bat either. He makes up a bit for this lack of talent by way of some audacious leadership qualities.