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The Dhoni school of life – remarkably unhurried, supremely efficient

Wisden India logo Wisden India 22-09-2017 Saurabh Somani
© Provided by Wisden

In the past month alone, there must have been at least five instances when you saw MS Dhoni and went, “That’s ridiculous.” Ridiculously unbelievable, that is – because ridiculously still good.

Even the BCCI, and hopefully the Indian government, agree, what with the former skipper nominated for the Padma Bhushan award on Wednesday (September 20).

Even so, when Michael Clarke said that Dhoni would play not just the 2019 World Cup but the 2023 one also, it still sounded absurd. For one thing, Dhoni will be 42 years old then, and though his age might well be the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything – it’s not so much an age when you answer selectorial calls.

Okay yes, this is Dhoni and he has made a habit of proving everyone wrong when least expected. But still, no matter how many times he gives the impression that his hands can move faster than light, he is bound by human laws, and lasting till you are 42 years old in international cricket has vanished to low probability.

Although there is this to be said about Dhoni. He knows the art of preserving himself, so he might have a better shot at lasting longer. He’s given up Test cricket, so that has freed up a large chunk of his calendar and made for a much easier schedule. And even during matches, or travel-time, he seems to have perfected the art of ‘efficient rest’. Crowd disturbance in Sri Lanka when he’s in the middle of the pitch? Time for a nap. Long airport wait-times while flying from Chennai to Kolkata? Time for a lie-down.

If you’re going to be the sharpest on the field while spotting what demands a DRS review and what doesn’t, if you’re going to be running between wickets as if your children’s inheritance is at stake if you’re not the quickest, if you’re going to pull off stumpings that would make a champion gun-slinger of the Wild West proud – well then you need the occasional shut-eye wherever you can grab it.

In all of the above, Dhoni is a cut above the rest. That is without even getting into how he susses game situations whether while batting or on the field, and how he seems to have reinvented his batting to become a force once again after a couple of years of deceleration. The most unbelievable aspect to it all is how on-point he is with DRS.This is the man who once said as the India captain that he wouldn’t want ‘a life jacket without a 100% guarantee’ – which sounds like a great quote but was not actually addressing the issue of why India were happy without a life jacket at X percentage, and reluctant to take the life jacket which made it X+Y percentage, even if X+Y didn’t add to 100. Nevertheless, Dhoni consistently batted away suggestions about using the system and offered sometimes valid, and sometimes ludicrous, explanations of why India did not want DRS.

How absolutely deliciously ironic then, that Dhoni has exhibited such mastery over the method that calling it the Dhoni Review System seems entirely commonplace. It has a nice ring to it too, and the advantage of being bang-on accurate. Dhoni has shown better than anyone else that the adage of the wicketkeeper having the best view is not misplaced.

Given Dhoni’s entire career and how it has embraced the unconventional, it could well be ‘Dhoni Rewrites System’. His city had no great cricketing heritage until he provided it, his technique had no manual until he invented it, his demeanour as India captain in the face of triumph and adversity had no precedent until he set it, and even his manner of walking away – from Test cricket, from limited-overs captaincy – offered no clue until he delivered his bolt from the blue himself.

Or it could be called Dhoni Ridicules Soothsayers. Several people – this writer can neither confirm nor deny he was one of them – thought Dhoni was sort of, a little bit, maybe, kind of, you know… losing his touch. The big hits had become rarer, the ‘Dhoni effect’ if you will – of his mere presence at the crease being intimidating – had begun to cool off. In the kind of contrast that makes for good copy on a dull day, the man himself never seemed to get heated up at the cooling off. Recent times have shown us why:

Of course, Dhoni never doubted his own ability. If a carp could be found for his superb show against Sri Lanka, that the opposition was too weak, he showed off his nous against Australia in the first ODI. Given the situation he walked into and what it later became (64 for 4 and 87 for 5), if you had to custom-order an ODI innings, it would be Dhoni’s. Consolidate at first and let Hardik Pandya hit them without inhibitions because he can. Accelerate in the blink of an eye in the slog overs after the younger partner is out. Finish in a blaze of glory. Ensure your team has a total that’s not just match-winning but considerably more than what the opposition would have budgeted for halfway through. Win the battle on the field and in the mind.

Maybe we should just go with Dhoni’s Reclining Siesta. Because it is the most apt, as well as the most incorrect, way to describe him. It is incorrect because nothing at all about Dhoni in action on the field so much as suggests snoozing. It is appropriate because in the act of catnapping mid-pitch or mid-airport, Dhoni showed just what has made him so successful – a casual disregard for what unconnected others might think, an efficient way to use time that no one else would have thought of, and the ability to wave away any slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with a shrug.

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