Dhoni was always a quiet guy. Anyway, you take time to open up when you come into the team. Everyone comes from different parts of the country. And when he came in, we didn’t know much about him because he wasn’t much talked about when he was playing domestic cricket.
He never suffered from an inferiority complex just because he came from Ranchi. He never tried to change his personality. Jo usske shauk thhe, woh hi karta thha. He never went out of his room but his room was always open to everyone, even when he was the captain.
Dhoni never judged anyone. Off the field, he never meddled in anyone’s lifestyle. If someone preferred to stay up till 2 in the night, he had no issues with that. But that doesn’t mean he had no control. On the field, he was different and talked about performances. He respected his players.
Ashish Nehra and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2009. (Photo credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images)
Dhoni’s mind was his sharpest weapon. He was always calm. If you come to think of it, he became the India captain in two years. He batted lower down the order but he knew his game better than others. He wasn’t a very skilful batsman when he came in.
When I made my comeback in 2009, he had already led the side for two years and matured. He had won the World T20, so he had become very confident. It’s a misconception that MSD was not very emotional. He just didn’t show it. Everyone has his own way of playing the game. He always loved percentage cricket. He did take a few chances as a captain, as all captains must.
Gary Kirsten as a coach was a blessing for Dhoni. Yes, he also had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan in his team. They were all established stars before he became the captain. To keep them happy in international cricket and use them properly was not an easy job. It was the same team that fumbled under Greg Chappell’s stint as India coach. But MS found a way to get the players performing. To balance your team, you need to have stability and a calm mind like Dhoni. If you look at it, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman ended their careers under him and they were still scoring runs.
That his captaincy started with world title outside the subcontinent and in an unknown format helped him to build the team. He had a template strategy and he liked to stick to it. He knew how much he could draw out of one player. And he would back his players. Just because he seemed a quiet person, it didn’t mean he didn’t interact with players. He ensured consistency. During Dhoni’s tenure, it never happened that every Test XI had three changes in it.
Ashish Nehra and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2011. (Photo credit: Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images)
People talk about his prowess as white-ball cricketer. But he had an average close to 40 in Test matches while batting at No. 7. He would adapt to situations in Test matches. He could even leave balls and see out the difficult periods. He didn’t have technique to bat well in England. But he found a way. He shimmied down the track, walk towards the bowlers and leave balls. It was all his mind. He was not a conventional wicketkeeper like Nayan Mongia, Kiran More and Kirmani. But he worked hard and grew as the best wicketkeeper in the world.
When I made my last comeback in 2015, it was a different team. He used me differently. We used to talk a lot more in the field. Every captain needs people around him. Earlier, he would pick Dravid and Tendulkar’s brains. I had also played for CSK for two years.
Virat (Kohli) is a very impulsive guy. He likes to keep everyone on their toes. He believes this will push everyone to perform. But Dhoni liked to give you time to settle down. Virat needs people who can calm him down. But Dhoni needed people who could help him because calmness was never an issue.