MS Dhoni(Getty Images) PREMIUM
MS Dhoni(Getty Images)

MSD: Mentor, margdarshak, the wise tutor

  • Now, MSD the Bahubali has switched roles and is a margdarshak, teacher, guide…mentor, to be precise, as Jay Shah announced.
By Amrit Mathur
UPDATED ON SEP 14, 2021 08:33 AM IST

Helmet, cap, floppy hat—take off the headgear and salute Thala MSD, the new/old Emperor, the HRH of Indian cricket. Less than two years since he left, he is back, the commoner from Ranchi who rose rapidly to rule Indian cricket, become bahubali.

Now, MSD the Bahubali has switched roles and is a margdarshak, teacher, guide…mentor, to be precise, as Jay Shah announced.

This role connects him to the ages. Mentor, as explained by a helpful WhatsApp thread, dates back to Homer’s 8th Century BCE epic Odyssey, where it’s the name of the tutor hired by Odysseus for his son Telemachus when the hero was away fighting the Trojan war and could not keep up with the lad’s homework.

In sport, timing is critical and MSD’s appointment so close to Teacher’s Day this September has a nice touch.

With this, MSD is also like the new Buddha, the supreme teacher of legendary composure.

Even in moments of serious stress MSD kept ‘shape’ and nothing sneaked through bat and pad to breach his defense.

Also like Buddha, MSD is a renunciate, unmoved by worldly temptations or social media.

He gave up Test cricket ten short of the magical 100 matches. He abdicated his position as skipper after captaining in 331 matches in a moment of enlightenment in the middle of a series in Australia. Like Buddha, who did not tell his wife and child before he left home for good, MSD told no one about his decision, not even coach Ravi Shastri, before he announced it.

A quick glance at his timeline reveals MSD ploughs a lonely path. He shuts out noise by ignoring calls (ask VVS Laxman) and is the unique celebrity who chooses to remain out of network coverage. He lives in his private world, in the company of immediate family and pets Sam, Lily, Gabbar and Zoya. Other celebrities spread themselves generously over social media, but not MSD. If superstar Aamir Khan is reclusive, then MSD is almost invisible.

Occasionally, MSD’s absence becomes an issue, for instance when he rejects cricket. After the last World Cup in July 2019 MSD disappeared, refused to play and failed to turn up for his Jharkhand Ranji team. He surfaced for IPL looking rusty and then disappeared again, only to re-emerge now in Dubai. During these breaks he was spotted swinging a carefree club at a golf course and doing organic farming riding a tractor.

Extended absences from cricket raise awkward questions: Is this disrespect for the sport, or smart “workload management” to preserve physical and mental energy?

The debate is academic because MSD is back in the middle of India’s World Cup war room. In this second innings, will MSD stick to his time tested process of talk less work more? Experience shows his team meetings at CSK are brief and he is not particularly excited by technology, videos or data. His style is of minimum governance and maximum action.

MSD is the genius who can speak without uttering a word. When the Indian Special Forces logo on his keeping gloves caused a furore, MSD remained on mute and scored a century without playing a shot.

The same “well left” strategy might not work this time. Firstly, he is the mentor but Indian team members aren’t exactly as young or inexperienced as Telemachus. On the contrary, the Indian dressing room is more Rajya Sabha than Lok Sabha with abundant experience. Including MSD, five IPL team captains sit in its different corners (six if you also count R Ashwin) and the leadership group has so much expertise they can start a T20 online learning centre like team sponsors Byju’s. The Indian think tank looks well populated but, remarked one cynic after the Manchester mess, MSD is additional cover for any Covid/non-Covid emergency.

MSD’s celebrated man management skills will be tested while keeping the delicate balance between captain, coach and mentor. MSD’s role is not to keep temperatures down or to put out fires—he will have a say in team selection and strategy, in batting orders and bowling match ups. Will Shastri take a backseat then? Will King Kohli cede territory?

Those contemplating fireworks, friction and fights between Indian cricket’s trimurti will be disappointed. For players, it’s always India first, and MSD comes with the tricolour draped around his powerful shoulders.

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