The Dhoni phenomenon

B Baskar | Updated on July 11, 2021

Title: Captain Cool: The MS Dhoni StoryAuthor: Gulu EzekielPublisher: Westland PublicationsPrice: ₹450

A record of Captain Cool’s exploits on the cricket field

MS Dhoni was an icon whose significance transcended the cricket field. Coming from a humble background and a cricketing backwater he became a symbol of an aspirational India.

Thala, as Dhoni is fondly called by the CSK faithful, is arguably the best limited overs cricketer produced by India, leading India to a string of titles — the 2007 inaugural T20 World Cup, the 2011 ODI World Cup and the 2013 Champion’s Trophy.

In Captain Cool: The MS Dhoni Story, veteran sports journalist Gulu Ezekiel faithfully records MSD’s extraordinary cricketing journey.

But this book is not a biography as Ezekiel didn’t seem to have got any access to Dhoni for writing this book. All the quotes in the book are culled from secondary sources such as newspapers, sports magazines and sports websites.

Less about the ‘person’

This book is more about the ‘Dhoni years’ of Indian cricket than about the ‘person’ Dhoni. So readers wanting to catch a glimpse of Dhoni’s psyche or personality and delve into his ice-cool demeanour are likely to be disappointed. The book itself is an updated fifth edition with the first edition being published way back in 2008.

Dhoni’s early days and struggles as a first class cricketer, first for Bihar and later for Jharkhand, are well captured by the author.

Though Dinesh Karthik had made his debut for India before Dhoni, it was the latter who cemented his place in the team. Dhoni swashbuckling brand of batting caught the selectors’ eyes early on and was seen as an India potential quite early in his career.

The chapters describing Dhoni’s debut in Tests and ODIs and how he caught the imagination of the nation are the best of the book. It was the controversial Greg Chappell who first spotted Dhoni’s leadership potential. But it was India’s disastrous first round exit from the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies that perhaps hastened his ascent towards captaincy when he led India for the first time for the 2007 inaugural T20 World Cup. Ezekiel provides a riveting account of India’s journey in that tournament and the nerve-jangling finals against Pakistan, where Dhoni showed his tactical nous by making Joginder Singh bowl the last over.

After that victory it was only a question of when not if Dhoni will become India’s Test Captain. The years between 2007 and 2011, when India lifted the ODI World Cup again after 28 years and topped the Test rankings, were Dhoni’s best.

Ezekiel devotes an entire chapter on Dhoni’s tryst with IPL. His two back-to-back titles with CSK and his unique albeit nerve-shredding style of soaking up pressure to take his team across the finish line at the very last minute played a huge part making the IPL such a big hit globally. The devotion with which the CSK faithful hold for him is usually reserved for cinema stars.

Dhoni’s captaincy years after 2011 were difficult. The high of the 2011 World Cup win led to two back-to-back series washouts — against England and Australia. After a home defeat against England in 2012-13 season Dhoni came close to losing his captaincy. It was in the 2014-15 tour of Australia that Dhoni decided to retire from Test cricket.

The IPL fixing controversy, CSK’s two-year ban and Dhoni’s brush with ‘conflict of interest’ through his sports management firm Rhiti Sports all find a brief mention in the book without too much detail or analysis.

When Martin Guptill’s direct hit ran Dhoni out in the 2019 World Cup semi-finals against New Zealand, it seemed like an end of an era. But Dhoni was still eyeing the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia for a last hurrah. The Covid pandemic put paid to that. His retirement from international cricket announced on Twitter late last year was imbued with a certain irony. But he will soldier on in the IPL and may bring more laurels to CSK.

A faithful record of the Dhoni years, this book has been written through a cricket writer’s eyes. To probe into the cultural and social phenomenon called Dhoni, we will perhaps have to wait for a sociologist.

Published on July 11, 2021

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