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Dhoni looks the part - Suresh Menon column
by Suresh Menon
Nov 03, 2008
You only have to imagine Vizzy carrying C K Nayudu on his shoulders around a cricket stadium or Ajit Wadekar carrying Tiger Pataudi or Sunil Gavaskar carrying Bishan Bedi or Sourav Ganguly carrying Rahul Dravid to realise what an incredible sight it was to see Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain-designate giving a lift to Anil Kumble, the man he takes over from. If no man is a hero to his valet, no Indian captain has been a hero to his successor, and this unique tribute was testimony both to Kumble's place in the team and the new captain's youthful spontaneity. It also provided a clue to the change in the offing - from an undemonstrative, studious captain to one who wears his heart on his sleeve and is a complete natural.

A cricket team tends to reflect the personality of the captain. Kumble came into the job late and led in only 14 Tests, but he injected a large dose of toughness into the side, especially in Australia during the last series where the team rose as one to take on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Sourav Ganguly's India was self-confident and bristling with self-belief, much like the captain himself.

Dhoni has already given us a peep into the next chapter with his marshalling of resources in the three different forms of the game. At 27, he is at the peak of his powers as a player; his contribution to India's victory at Mohali was crucial, his two fifties and the manner he made them leaving no one in any doubt who the boss was. He has that one quality without which no captain should even contemplate the job - luck. He goes with his instinct, and more often than not he succeeds. Reminded how he got Amit Misra to go round the wicket to dismiss Michael Clark in the last over of the day, he responded, "It was a fluke, my friend." I cannot think of another captain who would have responded thus. You have to be very secure in who you are to make a crack like that; most captains would have flicked an imaginary speck of dust off the sleeve while trying to look modest.

Kumble played one Test more than Kapil Dev, India's second highest wicket taker but claimed 185 wickets more. That statistic alone puts his contribution in perspective. Kumble was a presence. His contribution in the dressing room to a slew of Indian captains was vital. As younger and younger men took over as captain, Kumble played the grey eminence to perfection, a pillar of strength to the Indian team going through generational changes.

Among recent captains, Dhoni has the least home work to do, thanks to Kumble. Both seniors and juniors respond to him spontaneously. Those who might have a grouse for being passed over - Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh, for instance - know that he is too well established to be rocked easily. In short, he does not have the kind of problems that most incoming Indian captains do. This is partly due to the work of his immediate predecessors Kumble and Rahul Dravid, and partly due to his own personality and record. In Mohali, he showed how capable he is of raising the spirit of the Indian team especially in the field. No one could afford to relax. The fielding in Delhi was atrocious, so that will be Dhoni's first priority - he can start with a special session with Ishant Sharma.

The seamless takeover is unusual in Indian cricket. It has softened the blow of losing a captain in the middle of a series. Ever since he took over, Dhoni has looked the part. Now he finally gets to be captain both on and off the field. He started right, by demonstrating that rare mixture of love and admiration for his predecessor.
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