Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not all beef and neither he is all pulp. His strength does not come only from a physical frame that would do a boxer proud. Beneath a hardened exterior that conveys the impression of a man not given to too much thinking, is someone who knows his mind better than those who interpret him.
The stubborn streak in him, as evident in his taking unpopular and, at times, even illogical decisions, is not because he thinks less and acts more. As more events unfold and he grows into the job, it should become obvious to most of us that there could be a well thought out method to what many think is just madness.
No fear of failure
Compared to someone like the urbane Rahul Dravid, who would appear to think first and act later, Dhoni somehow appears to combine the two acts without burdening himself with the fear of failure.
He does not seem to care what people think of his actions nor does he cow down to the 'rantings' of experts who must always appear better qualified to pass judgement on events that have already taken place. Dhoni does not care if a Sunil Gavaskar finds harsh words like 'senseless and useless' for a player and questions his selection in the team. He wanted five bowlers in the team, had faith in Munaf Patel and played him again. It may be just his way of saying: thanks for your advice but I am the man in charge and I know better. You do your job, and I will do mine.
After winning against Australia in the T-20 World Cup, he told Ravi Shastri on camera that he and his team had proved his reading of the game wrong. The words had enough stress in them to convey his displeasure, but the smiling face accompanying those words had done more than enough to soften that barb.
Now in Australia where he is handling two fronts -- the game and the delinquent sledging -- his team has not been a great success so far. Despite India making it to the finals, Australia still look unbeatable and his backing of the young turks has not shown great results.
A new Ganguly?
He did not want seniors in the team and stuck to his guns, much to the chagrin of many. For many, former captain Sourav Ganguly is his mentor. Yet when it came to what he thought was the future of his team, he shunted him out. Today, after the openers' failures, is he missing the presence of Ganguly? Going by what one can read of the man, certainly not. He would rather lose, backing his gameplan than compromise on what he believes is the way ahead.
In many ways, he is the new Ganguly of Indian cricket. May be much calmer from the outside, but someone who is going to be there for those on whom he has faith. Ganguly, through his steadfast support to those who were talented and his aggressive approach, transformed the Indian team.
Dhoni ticked off Yuvraj-baiters with the line 'he will play all matches' backed his vice captain and won him over. He has also assuaged any resentment Yuvraj may have had for having been overlooked for captaincy.
Does Dhoni have it in him to take this team one step ahead? Does he have the same eye as Ganguly to spot matchwinners?
He sure has the mental strength to transform his approach to his batting and so far in Australia he has reined himself in so much that boundaries and sixes from his blade have been a rarity. Yet he has not failed with the bat and has given his team solidity in the middle overs without which India would have embarrassed themselves.
He is going to be confronted with many severe tests, one of them being his relative failure as a batsman in Tests. But for the moment, Dhoni is in the saddle and all seems well with the team.
PS: Can we all move ahead and not make so much of a fuss about what Hayden has to say about Harbhajan and vice-versa. Can we in the press too show greater maturity and not make Hayden finding Harbhajan an 'obnoxious little weed' the most important story emanating from Australia. Let Harbhajan retaliate and call Hayden the most 'obnoxious ox' to some radio station and let us get on with the game.