When Chennai Super Kings (CSK) failed to reach the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 playoffs, many cricket pundits felt it was the end of an era for MS Dhoni and his men in yellow. After all, it was the first time that CSK had failed to qualify beyond the first round barring the two years when they were suspended. Dhoni had already announced his retirement from international cricket and was past his prime as a batter. The Daddy Army taunts were back as the likes of Shane Watson and Dwayne Bravo, on the wrong side of their 30s, did not have a great run. But trust Dhoni to deliver against all odds. What is it that makes MSD such a master at winning the big titles?
The monk-like calmness
The biggest quality of Dhoni the skipper over the years has been his ability to remain extremely calm and composed under pressure. Although he may be feeling it inside, Dhoni is very good at hiding it. The latest example of this rare quality was evident in 2021 IPL final itself. Dhoni dropped the massive catch of Venkatesh Iyer very early in the chase. It was a big moment in the game and the man, undoubtedly, would have been extremely disappointed. But he did not show it. He carried on his duties without any fuss. The reaction from MSD would have been the same had any other player dropped the catch as well. This is perhaps what separates Dhoni from Virat Kohli as a leader. Both are aggressive in their own ways but their methods have varied impacts.
Dhoni’s silent resilience under pressure has allowed him to overcome tough times while taking the team along. It would not have been an easy job for the former India captain to lead CSK in IPL 2021. People were waiting for him to fail and the cricketing obits were ready. Had Dhoni not turned up for this year’s IPL, it would not have made any difference. His legacy had been very much secured with three ICC titles and an equal number of IPL crowns. But even at the fag end of his career, MSD was keen to prove a point. He knew what was at stake if he lost but as the saying goes – “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
A habit of beating the odds
IPL 2021 was definitely not the first time that Dhoni had lifted the team to glory against all odds. In fact, his tryst with challenges began as far back as 2007. India went to the inaugural T20 World Cup on the back of a disastrous 50-over World Cup campaign. Not many gave India a chance in the event as they were being led by a young captain, who was at the helm of a talented but inexperienced bunch of men. But by making maximum utility of his resources and through his tactical genius, Dhoni lifted India to victory.
During IPL 2018 as well, Dhoni beat the odds to help CSK lift the title. The franchise was returning from a two-year suspension and it would have been extremely difficult to motivate the guys. Most were in separate franchises during the two years that CSK did not play. And for them to not only reunite but also clinch the IPL trophy demonstrates the great bond that Dhoni has developed in the team. IPL 2021 was a fightback of a different kind.
Hanging in there and striking when it matters most
It is often said that a captain must lead from the front. Dhoni’s mantra is slightly different though. In his case, it is leading from the front when it matters the most. He had a horrible run with the bat in the 2011 World Cup. Still, he backed himself to move up the order, ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh, in the final. And what a tremendous innings he played under pressure. In IPL 2021 as well, Dhoni played only one knock of note. But his blazing cameo against DC put CSK in the final. Truly, MSD is the king of tough times.