There’s no doubt Mahendra Singh Dhoni is one of the best international captains at moulding a winning spirit; the Indian team showed great resolve in the knockout stage of the World Cup and that can only happen if everyone is enjoying the success of his team-mates.
Of the international captains over the last thirty years, Dhoni ranks up there with the best of them in Imran Khan, Mark Taylor and Arjuna Ranatunga. They’re all different in style but each had the ability to draw the best out of their team and win when the going was tough.
Of that quartet, Dhoni and Ranatunga both had moderate attacks, which make their achievement in winning a World Cup even more meritorious. One of the foremost requirements of a captain is to realise what he has in firepower and then work out how to best utilise it. Neither Dhoni nor Ranatunga were ones to lament their lack of attacking options; they just devised plans to beat the opposition with the bowlers they had in hand.
Dhoni even admitted after the semi-final he’d misread the Mohali pitch but that still didn't stop him from finding a way to win with the attack he had on the field. That’s a smart captain.
Another great quality Dhoni brings to captaincy is a quiet calm. Like all good captains he displays an aura that, no matter what is happening on the field, suggests to his team: “All is well”.
Once a captain conveys that feeling, the rest of the team starts to believe he can pull off miracles. When the team believe miracles can happen they often occur because of the players’ belief; it becomes a self-perpetuating process.
It also helps that Dhoni leads by example. When the going is tough he’s prepared to march into battle and tackle the biggest challenge; the World Cup final was a great example of that aspect of his character.
Leading by example
The players know that Dhoni is not asking them to do anything that he’s not prepared to do himself. That’s all players ask of their captain. They want honesty and in return they’ll give their respect.
That is the foundation on which India's wonderful team spirit is built.
By backing his players, Dhoni empowers them. The players know that he has faith in them and consequently when he sets them a task, they go about it with wholehearted confidence.
There was no better example of how empowerment works in this World Cup than Zaheer Khan. Every time Dhoni threw him the ball, Zaheer responded with a spirited effort and on most occasions he obtained the wicket India so badly needed.
Dhoni gradually brought his team to a peak during the tournament and they were at their best in the final. And, as good as they were, not even Imran, Taylor or Ranatunga put on such a commanding personal performance as Dhoni did in a World Cup final.