MS Dhoni and The Enigma of Gut Feeling

This might not be the best of times to talk about Dhoni and his art of Captaincy, but here is an article written, not long ago in support of, arguably, India’s greatest Captain.

To have a clear cut picture of the turn of events which are about to transpire as the bowler prepares to deliver the next ball hints at two aspects – either spot fixing, which has overtaken the supposedly old fashioned match fixing thing, or at an unbelievable intellectual phenomenon. Without the least inch of doubt, it has got to be the latter in the context I am about to unfold.

How much of an impact can gut feeling make to a cricket match which is supposedly won or lost purely on the basis of the physical facilities of twenty two men? What has gut feeling to do absolutely anything to do with cricket? Well, outwitting the opposition does play a significant part, specially at the international level where the competing parties have more or less evenly matched lineups. But, gut feeling doesn’t have any correlation with strategising. Every team plans tactics against the opposition as a whole, as well as individuals of that side. They may or may not be able to implement the same on field in the midst of a tight match situation. Game plans are more or less applicable for larger parts of a match. Howewer, taking on the spot decisions has it’s own relevance, when things don’t turn out the way you would want them to. Here is where the essence of a cool-as-ice mastermind is felt.

India are quite lucky, in this department, posessing a skipper like Dhoni. This isn’t stated by me, but by one of the better cricketing brains, Geoffrey Boycott. Gut feeling, as per the dictionaries is a reaction induced instinctively. The protagonist of this piece, M.S.Dhoni, is rated top notch for his quick and effective decision making when the going isn’t smooth. His success as Team India’s captain is often attributed to his strong conviction in going by the gut. Howewer, when we observe his theories minutely, it becomes quite obvious that it isn’t about blindly making decions, but taking calls backed by reason. Take for example, the placing of a leg slip for a right hander (which really seems to have become a habit now) given Ashwin naturally will turn the ball into him. Howewer, Dhoni applied this strategy to Philip Hughes, in the recent Indo – Ausie one day series, irrespective of Ashwin’s natural spinning curve because of Hughes’ tendency to force the ball to fine leg for a single, with success. Henceforth, opportunities were created against Hughes with seamers as well.

In one of the nail biting encounters between the arch rivals, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians in the 2010 IPL season too, Dhoni’s marvellous ability to comprehend the game came to the fore as the Carribean stalwart, Kieron Pollard was single handedly turning it on for the men in blue. With the game going away from him, Dhoni gestured at Matthew Hayden to position himself straightish at mid-off. Destiny, alleged to be Dhoni’s slave, pan out the way he wanted as Pollard mistimed it straight to the Aussie wizard. The reason the field change was made was because Pollard likes to hit it as straight as he can, as per Dhoni.

Dhoni, the captain, is at his best, I suppose, when Pollard goes all guns blazing. Even in the 2013 IPL final, Dhoni devised a cleverly crafted plot to trap Pollard by placing a shot mid wicket right at the edge of the circle, and forcing Pollard to flick a full length delivery on the leg stump brutally, but straight in to that fielder’s hands.

Even in the epic 2011 world cup final, he came out to bat at number 4, despite Yuvraj being so very successful at that position in the tournament, and himself being the lone struggling Indian batter by performance hitherto in the coveted competition. He did save his best for the finals by stitching together with Gambhir, a match-winning partnership, hence converting the billion wishes to reality. He took the decision to not have two left handers in the middle so as to negate Murali’s effectiveness.

This isn’t to state that going by the guts works all the time. Dhoni has failed on several instances, more so visibly, in test cricket through his infamous defensive tactics – cutting the flow of runs by employing a part time spinner in the post lunch session against the English tailenders instead of trying to clean them up with an in form Ishaant Sharma at his disposal.

Even with his team selections, like going with two spinners,with the presumption that a team must go by it’s strengths, in South African conditions hasn’t worked the wonders really.

Howewer, when it comes to limited overs cricket, there aren’t too many things that Dhoni can go wrong with. He, quite visibly, is at ease in the shorter formats of the game, where he can flaunt his solid captaincy material, driving his side home more often than not.

The point behind this talk was to emphasize and throw light on how sheer a braniac Dhoni is, and continues to be. More essentially, he tries to keep it simple, while stitching all the wily tricks about him. Dhoni’s success as a skipper must be credited to his trust in his team. He knows how to get the best out of every individual, by backing them and provided the desired comfort level. In short, as they say, a captain is as good as his team is. Sorry, MSD, all the accolades are not yours, but the lion’s share is.

– V Tej Manohar

-Tej Manohar. V [Tej Manohar is a Cricket Analyst with Sportz Cosmos. He tweets here]


9 thoughts on “MS Dhoni and The Enigma of Gut Feeling

  1. Excellent point of view Tej! The gut feel cricketer that Dhoni is, also possesses in my opinion very strong leadership qualities. Handing over courtesy captaincy to Saurav in his last game, not even trying to divert the topic from Sachin in his last series were master strokes and sets an example of how to treat seniors who have given so much to the game. His cricketing shots, well I am sure every team spends fair amount of time coming up with a strategy to get him out.

  2. Everything works out well when the gut works..but what differentiates a great captain from a good captain is his ability to learn from mistakes.One thing I like about Dhoni is his ability to stay grounded when his team loses or wins..I can never forget the scene when Dhoni’s team won the T20 World cup beating Pak..he didn’t go over the top like most of his team mates did..Dhoni has the big heart to let his teammates hog the lime light something rarely seen in India cricket. What I find hard to understand is Dhoni’s preference for certain players and his reluctance to do away with them even after they fail consistently..he will never back a Dinesh Karthick like a Suresh Raina or a Pragyan Oohja like Ashwin.
    If you look back Ganguly started with great promise won a lot of matches..backed youngsters but he eventually ended up being stubborn about his choices which lead to his downfall as a captain. I hope Dhoni does not go that route.

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