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Two Heroes and a Disappointment
by Suresh Menon
Sep 25, 2007
There were two heroes and one disappointment at the end of the Twenty20 World Cup final. The heroes included Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who led with flair, spoke with conviction, and showed that the shortest version of the game does lend itself to tactical manoueuvres. He should have been the Man of the Match in the final, for his aggressive captaincy, his inspired bowling changes, and for something few Indian captains have been able to do - that is, get the players to play above themselves.

A young, inexperienced bunch of lads was inspired to dig deep into themselves by the captain. There were no superstars held in wide-eyed awe that has often led to players not playing to potential in the past. This was a team where everybody was equal, and the emphasis was on having a good time. Of course, after this, the pressure will be on the new champions. Following the 1983 World Cup triumph, India were thrashed by the West Indies in the home series. Not taken seriously earlier, now they were champions. But that is for later.

Dhoni attacked, keeping an extra fielder within the circle even when it wasn’t necessary. By having a slip, he took an early wicket (only four catches have been taken at slip in the whole tournament). He turned to Joginder Sharma rather than Harbhajan Singh for the last over when he realised that ambition was a mightier weapon than experience.

The second hero was Dhoni’s father, who refused to meet the media or speak convenient lines when television crews and newspaper reporters laid siege to his house in Ranchi, Jharkhand. This Dhoni - named Paan Singh - is clearly yet to recover from the reactions to India’s defeat in the One-day World Cup in the West Indies. His house was stoned, his son’s new house was picketed, and there were mock funerals in the city for his son. Fans who had got themselves the long-flowing ‘Dhoni’ hairstyle when the wicket keeper was at the height of his popularity made a show of cutting their hair and their hero out of their lives.

And it wasn’t so many months ago. Less than half a year, in fact. Realising, like the poet Kipling, that defeat and victory are impostors, Dhoni Sr. wasn’t about to go overboard like the rest of the country. Another defeat, and the cycle will turn again. On television, the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the same man who wanted to cut player allowances, and ban them from endorsing products was now seen running around like a besotted fan, trying desperately to get himself photographed with Dhoni holding the trophy.

Suddenly, officials were all over the place. The same ones who had distanced themselves from the players after the West Indies World Cup debacle now wanted to be in the same frame as the players. We have been there before. The lack of balance in defeat, or in victory.

The disappointment sadly, was the Pakistani captain Shoaib Malik. He led imaginatively. He was positive. There was no disgrace in the defeat. Yet, at the post-match interview he thought this was the time to express both thanks and apology to “the Muslims of the world.” Good captain, bad ambassador for the game. This was not the time or place. Dhoni didn’t win for the Hindus of the world, nor would Graeme Smith have for the Christians of the world. This was both silly and unnecessary.

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