When a major tournament happens, it’s always the home team captain who comes under the most pressure. Each decision, comment and contribution is dissected.
At the 2015 World Cup, New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum was seen winning that challenge, his explosive batting the driving force for the co-hosts. His Aussie counterpart Michael Clarke had to first fend off criticism over his fitness race, but in the end he was the one holding the trophy, after a Trans-Tasman triumph no less.
At the World Twenty20, the man who is shouldering all the weight is India skipper MS Dhoni. He guided a young team to the inaugural WT20 tournament in South Africa.
This time, most former players have installed India as favourites. Although India are a win over Australia away from that semifinal spot, sluggish tracks have kept batsmen, except Virat Kohli, on tenterhooks. And this could well be Dhoni’s last major tournament.
But Dhoni knows how to win a World T20 as well as a World Cup at home, and blemishes don’t bother him. There is a new aggression, and impatience with media, but he is playing the Big Brother to his players to perfection.
On Wednesday night though, it was about his planning and razor sharp reflexes, after slowing the game down, getting the fielders in the right spot and spreading calm, especially among newcomers Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya.
Bumrah, impressive since making his debut in Australia, had had a bad day. He misfielded the first ball of the Bangladesh innings to concede a four, and then went for 16 runs in his second over. He also dropped a sitter from Tamim Iqbal off R Ashwin, whose precious four overs eventually netted only two wickets.
Dhoni got him to stay focused, and Bumrah responded by keeping things tight --- he gave just 13 runs bowling the 17th and 19th overs, setting up the dramatic final over with Bangladesh left to get 11 for a win. Until then, it seemed India should have picked a third spinner. Pandya’s last over may not entirely compare with Joginder Sharma’s effort as it came in the 2007 WT20 final, but the choice was equally inspiring.
However, Dhoni has been his own man. He has insisted on personnel who can be slotted in for specific roles. Be it calling up veteran Ashish Nehra or youngsters Pandya and Bumrah, they all fit into his calculations.
The skipper himself finished it off in the end, another calculated sprint by the 34-year-old. Dhoni sprinting from metres out to run out Mustafizur Rahman last ball has made him a Superman. One funny image shows Usain Bolt winning a race only to see Dhoni ahead of the finish line effecting the run out!
“We were just discussing what would be a good length to bowl,” Dhoni said, having told Pandya to pitch it short and worked out whether the batsmen will succeed in stealing a bye.
In situations like the last over of the Bangladesh game, it is about managing the confusion for Dhoni.
“In situations like this, it’s literally chaos. You’re trying to manage chaos. Having an open mind really helps because in situations like these, under pressure, you may have a tunnel vision and that’s where the point of view of others come in handy.”
After the triple strike off the last three balls, India can look forward to a better pitch in Mohali, where they play Australia on Sunday.
For Dhoni though, the win can’t erase the defeat against Bangladesh which led to India’s first round elimination in the 2007 World Cup. “Nothing erases anything. Whatever said and done, we’ll still remember the 2007 loss,” Dhoni said. “You have to move on, but that was something quite harsh on us, especially on me. Life was very tough.”