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A leader of men, Dhoni has transformed himself

It is this success that has won Dhoni complete control over a group of young cricketers who respect their captain and respond wholeheartedly to him, reports Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Sep 11, 2008 23:14 IST
Anand Vasu

It's almost as though people are standing in queue to hand Mahendra Singh Dhoni awards. First there was the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna - an award given to no cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar. Even less than halfway through his career, Dhoni was nominated, and the committee concurred. The likes of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, all of whom have achieved more than Dhoni has at this stage, were never considered worthy of the honour.

Now, Dhoni has become the first Indian to win the International Cricket Council's ODI player of the year. The award is significant for it is a jury of peers that recognised Dhoni. The panel that put the Indian ODI skipper ahead of teammate Sachin Tendulkar, Nathan Bracken and Mohammad Yousuf included some of the most respected names in the cricket world. Clive Lloyd and Greg Chappell, both former international captains were joined by South Africa's Shaun Pollock, Sidath Wettimuny from Sri Lanka, Athar Ali Khan from Bangladesh and other prominent stakeholders, including a few from the media.

Dhoni's award is especially crucial because it is not merely recognition of a single swashbuckling performance or even a patch of good form with the bat. Sure, he managed 1298 runs from 39 ODIs at an average of 49.92 and a strike rate of 82.46, and cleaned up 62 dismissals behind the stumps in the voting period. But players have scored more runs and not been recognised as the best of the pack.

Dhoni's award is recognition of what he has done with the ODI team as captain. Forget the whispers of how he eased the "seniors" out of the side, the current ODI team is Dhoni's own. A first-ever tri-series win in Australia was followed up by India's first bilateral ODI series triumph in Sri Lanka.

This award is recognition of Dhoni's cricketing intelligence, the manner in which he reads a situation and a game. The role he is playing with the bat, floating up and down the order, and being the backbone of the batting, whether against pace and swing Down Under, or Ajantha Mendis in Sri Lanka, shows how well he is reading the flow of a one-day match. You would understand if a cerebral Dravid or a charismatic Ganguly won such an award for leadership. That it has gone to a street-smart wicketkeeper from Ranchi is a testament to the success Dhoni has brought to the Indian team.

It is this success that has won Dhoni complete control over a group of young cricketers who respect their captain and respond wholeheartedly to him. Only a few days ago, Gary Kirsten received a rap on the knuckles from the Board of Control for Cricket in India for suggesting that Dhoni was ready for the Test captaincy. At the moment, the need to put Dhoni in that hot seat has not arisen. And Dhoni, for one, is not clamouring for the job.

Not long ago, when Anil Kumble was handed the reins, it was because Dhoni was yet to establish himself as a certainty in the Test team. Now, he has won a Twenty20 World Cup, runs the ODI team almost unilaterally - with a little help from the selectors and support from the coaching staff - and is the first in line for Test captaincy.

Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag, both vice-captains before Dhoni's arrival on the big stage, will wonder what more they could have done. Dhoni, need do no more, for it is only a matter of time before he gets the Test captaincy as well. When the Test captaincy - the biggest prize of them all - is handed to Dhoni, it will be just like the awards that have come his way, unsought, but certainly more than welcome.