Gaurav Kalra: MSD from a distance
In journalism fancy headline writing is a much admired skill. But in the aftermath of India's World Cup victory, the phraseology to describe Indian skipper MS Dhoni has been borderline ridiculous. 'Destiny's child', 'Captain fantastic' and the reliable go to phrase when the mind shuts shop- 'Man with the Midas touch'! Ironically, its only when you remind yourself of the fable that you realise that Midas' touch was actually a curse!
But the swarm of cliches to describe Dhoni can be forgiven because here is a man impossible to fathom. With Indian cricketers you mostly get what you see. Tendulkar- Humble and polite: True. Dravid- Guarded and reserved: True. Sehwag- Free spirited and easy going: True. Gambhir- Intense: True. Harbhajan - A bit of a maverick: True. Laxman: Really nice guy- True. Yuvraj- Friendly and hilarious- largely True!
But to compartmentalise Dhoni is impossible. His ready wit at media interactions would suggest a comfort level with the fourth estate. But once the cameras are off and the notebooks are shut, Dhoni disappears. Neither does he covet praise, nor does criticism seem to rattle him too much. On a few tours with the Indian team in the last five years, I have watched Dhoni with wonder. He is distant yet never arrogant. He is courteous yet rarely friendly. More often than not he smiles, but he leaves you wondering if that smile is mocking you or carries genuine warmth. He wears shocking T-shirts and likes to ride fast motor bikes. But for a man of those tastes is hardly ever spotted at the night club in the team hotel. While I can't claim to know any Indian cricketer too well, MS Dhoni is not even a real acquaintance.
It is precisely why watching Dhoni from a distance fascinates me. And allows me to develop a theory about the man that isn't shackled by familiarity. That also of course implies my theory could be completely off the mark! My sense is Dhoni demands from himself ownership of every moment of his existence. He fights for that moment but win or lose, he surrenders it once it has passed. In Dhoni's world there is little time for post-mortems and hardly any for regrets. His future is confined to the moment that is about to arrive and is for him to seize. So in a World Cup final, he troops in with 160 left to get with a string of failures so far in the tournament. And ahead of his in-form batsman who has bagged four man of the match awards so far. Dhoni's innings is assured and calculated because he so ordains it. He recognises that the image of the winning runs will linger so he luminates it with a massive six. Job done, world cup won, now can we move on...
For a man who isn't 30 yet Dhoni's equilibrium is unusual. But I suspect it is so because he doesn't allow situations to burden him. Self-confidence is often misunderstood. In Dhoni's case it appears confidence flows not from an arrogant belief that he is right. But in trusting his instinct for what that moment demands. So quietly he slips in among the troopers when Tendulkar is paraded around the ground, not even offering him his strong shoulders so the limelight isn't shared. He punts on selections that confound the 'experts' and concedes them as mistakes even when they work out just fine!
Even as the nation showers praise on his team, Dhoni reminds us that the pillars of this now formidable fortress are men such as Kumble, Dravid and Ganguly. In the moment of his team's greatest triumph Dhoni joins the dots between the recent past, the present and the immediate future. And completes the picture that in his own head was never unclear. A defeat in the final wouldn't have devastated him. Just as victory has made him ecstatic but not delirious like some of his team-mates and most of this cricket mad nation.
MS Dhoni might well be a man of steely resolve and abundant talent. He might well be more determined and dogged than most cricketers on the circuit. But watching from a distance I am convinced Dhoni has no equal in the game in the art of mastering a moment. And more importantly, in letting that very moment pass. It seems like a well designed method for a happy life. Sometimes the quest for a place in history can snatch your present away. Mahender Singh Dhoni is teaching us how to not allow that to happen. I suspect though that he doesn't really care if we learn or not!
More about Gaurav KalraGaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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