On Dhoni


It’s strange, this phenomenon. Hours and hours of watching my favorite sportsmen on the telly, and I begin to believe that I know them personally. That’s why I tuned in when Sachin was close to a century and become all emotional when Ganguly walked out that last time. Even though it is extremely silly, I become personally invested in the individual successes of these strangers, that goes above and beyond my team winning, just like I would do for my friends.

And just like I do for my friends, I make these little mental stereotypes.

The passionate. Sourav.

The gentleman. Dravid.

The self-absorbed geek. Sachin.

The guy who never gets his due. VVS.

The maverick. Sehwag.

The relentless. Kumble.

But what about Dhoni?

I don’t think I have that personal connect with him, not in the way I have for the names above. As Harsha Bhogle writes, in this beautiful piece,  he could not figure out who he was and he is someone who actually knew Dhoni pretty well in real life.

Unlike my other sporting heroes, the sport was never Dhoni’s religion, never the be-all-and-end-all. It was a job, a job he did because he was very very good at it and because he made a lot of money from it, and he never showed it to be anything else, like a deep love for the sport or the country.

There was a fundamental honesty there and yet it was just too honest for the sports-fan in me.

The paradox, and some may say the hypocrisy, is that while I consider myself a pragmatist, I hero-worship those that are not, or perhaps do not appear to be.

That’s significant. This “appear to be”. I am sure that many of my heroes are cynical to the core, perhaps even dangerously two-faced, that their passion and devotion are only acts to be consumed by gullible people like me, and the truth of that was brought to me when Azharuddin was revealed to be doing what he was doing, a day of great personal trauma for me, because I remember actually crying, for he, not Sachin or Saurav, had been my biggest sporting hero.

For instance, I don’t know for sure if his commitment to India was more or less than his towards his IPL franchise, CSK, though I think that CSK came first, definitely over Test matches.

But wait. Why should it not?  He never played for India, he played for BCCI, a club by their own admission, and if there are two clubs you play for, and one pays you a lot more than the other for doing a lot less, which one should one prioritize? If I worked two jobs and one paid many times more than the others, I would do exactly the same.

His relationship with Srini, much lampooned and hated, was also based on pragmatism. Sport, despite all the marketing soft-soap about how it is a higher calling, is big business for those who are in it, and any pragmatist would know that one can only persist by being part of a  winning team, not just the eleven that walks out onto the playing arena, but a team that includes the big dogs in administration and advertising.

This pragmatic outlook, shorn of all the silly romanticism,  defined his cricket also. He had a horrible bowling attack and an ageing batting line-up, so he set defensive fields and hoped the opponent had a brain-fade. If he knew opponent needed a win, he would pack massive defensive fields and hope they get out to that (it worked once). This made for boring cricket and even after that India got their asses handed to them. The alternative would have been the charge of the light brigade approach, and while that may have worked once and people remembered it for precisely that, the odds were never on, and hence Dhoni would never try. If choice A was an unspectacular bowler who, at best could take three wickets and at worst, hold down one end, and choice B was an unknown whose only strength was that he was unknown, but who, in the worst case, would be creamed all over the park, Dhoni would take choice A. That’s why Ashwin played in the Tests he captained, and Karn Sharma in the one that Kohli did.

The odds. Yes Dhoni played the odds. Not the heart.

Which is why I have always thought of him as this super-genius, legendary, fund-manager. He has managed three funds—Tests, ODIs, and IPL.  Over the years, he has realized that the Test fund, given the resources at hand and given his own investment philosophy, is just not working out for him. The numbers are there. In red. They look even more horrible compared to the numbers on his other funds. He had been cutting his exposure for some time now, limiting dives because of his dodgy back, till he had come to the stage that five days of standing in the sun, mostly as opponents hit five-hundred-plus-scores, was simply not worth his investment. It reduced his value, there was too little reward, and the opportunity cost was too high.

All he was looking was for a time, just as he looks for that time, when he is pottering around in the 46th over and the required run rate is going up, to unleash the big shot.

So the time comes. He takes it.

He does not wait till the end of the series cause it would be the right thing to do. He does not play another Test and get the waterworks on.

He just picks up his hat and dissolves his fund.

Of course, used to I am to heroic narratives around commercial sport, this kind of mercenary pragmatism is disquieting, even though it is precisely because of this unsentimental odds-based approach that Dhoni has been such a successful fund-manager all his life, having brought back more trophies than any of my sporting heroes.

So that’s that.

Dhoni. Fund-manager.

Looking back, I wish though there had been some tears, some sentimentality, some faux-emotion, and even though it would have been dishonest and manipulative, I would have felt better. I wish he had shouted some gaalis when he batted, or gone nose-to-nose with Kamran Akmal, or made faces at Shane Watson. I wish he had given more soundbytes like “I love my India” and “Cricket is my life”.

I wish he had not appeared so detached. I wish he had been one of my hero fake-friends.

But he isn’t

And that, I suspect, is exactly how he would have wanted it to be.



29 thoughts on “On Dhoni

  1. Some major cricketer retires and I dont give a **** it finally shows that I have outgrown the game. Just the way you realize you have outgrown the pubs culture when your friends invite you for a Friday night party and you would rather spend time with your kid.

    I hope the modern day teenagers also be pragmatic about cricket just like Dhoni and treat it just like a game and nothing more. To misquote you from one of your pieces about Barber shop, “we live in times when a kiss is just a kiss and cricket is well just a game”. Good for everyone.

  2. Not to forget that he came from Jharkhand/Bihar which has not really produced sporting heroes who are worshipped, and beat the Mumbaikars and Delhiwallahs at their own game. He was a survivor and I believe this detachment or “coolness” also comes from a smalltown sensibility of doing the work than indulge is shenanigans.

  3. I think Dhoni will have to retire altogether from international Cricket after the 2015 WC. After being knocked out in one of the early rounds there will be noises about making Kohli the permanent Captain and then that will be it.

  4. Dhoni’s skill in man management are often overlooked – he managed a team with the superstar Galacticos – Sachin/Dravid/VVS and it is never easy managing stars knowing you cannot match their skill level. And then he had to continue with a team shorn of these stars and encouraged newcomers from the unlikeliest of places.

  5. In other words, an honest fellow. Kudos to him.

  6. Ravi Shastri needs to take some serious lessons in HR. Had he been shrewd enough he would have ensured that Dhoni retires as a captain but continues to play as a wicket keeper and more importantly as a batsman. That he created a atmosphere for Dhoni to quit as a test cricketer is a complete failure of someone who does not know the man management technique. Merely talking “Aggro” is not the right solution. In fact it can backfire very badly as was the case.

  7. I never like Dhoni; but never disliked him.. I consider him as Hope… and i mean it as when every think fails I could always hope on Dhoni to get us the most wanted home!!!

  8. Our biggest problem was there after the big three Sachin, Sourav and Dravid(see there is no Laxman here) there were no stars other than Dhoni. Its only now that Kohli has come into the fold – and I’m talking stars in terms of advertising dollars – not performance wise. Yuvi – no personality, Sehwag lazy, Zaheer – always hurt, Gambhir – nuts? – so it was all Dhoni – Dhoni this, Dhoni that vagera vagera – that he handled everything with such class and stature speaks volumes about him. You cannot find any cricketer who played along side him to say anything negative about him- you would think someone who was all dollars and pounds would evoke some criticism- or are we to think that mob boss Srinivasan has put the lid on the entire cricketing fraternity that nothing unsavory about his golden goose can come out until its fully cooked.

    You say that you could never be sure that Dhoni’s commitment to India was more or less than his towards his IPL franchise- why should such a silly question arise? This is a captain who has never played for personal records, always gave it his all when it came to batting (ever seen him refuse a two or a three because he was saving himself)- won us our world cup, got us to number one in test ranking, a host of other international accolades, all the while having probably the weakest batting technique(if you could call it technique) and a shitty bowling attach- this with an ageing Sachin who was busy pursuing his own records at the cost to the team(remember how he scored his 100th 100 against Bangladesh in a losing cause). Put it simply Dhoni liked winning, period. Everything paled in comparison. He expected the same from his team too(This probably would not have sat well with the seniors). He was not some master tactician, who read Tsun Tzu and the like, but liked to keep things simple, probably because of his background- it worked well when he had Gary Kirsten to help him- now with this idiot Fletcher the team has lost its way. He approached the game clinically (not cynically as most would like to believe) – he has his fun exactly 20 seconds after a victory and then returns back to earth, unlike most others who celebrate like its the end of the world. He is not afraid of publicly chastising his players, but he backs them unless they give him cause not to do so. A person in his place could just about get away with anything, but his feet are firmly planted on the ground -are we to believe that his humility and calmness is a calculated front for raking in the advertising dollars? Is Sachin being a cynical two-faced greedy scrooge so scared that if he bad mouths Dhoni in public that he would lose his (nearing zero)brand value, that he waxes eloquence about Dhoni. Or is Dravid being his usual gentlemanly uncontroversial self by lapping up praise after praise on Dhoni? Give me a break- if Dhoni was a fund manager as you claim, I’m sure that he will be auctioning all those stumps he would carry after every victory on ebay for zillions of dollars.

    A few years back, In my company, we were brainstorming once with an ad agency about our brand positioning and as these discussions invariable go, this one verred to Brand Dhoni. What the adman said is still with me- “Dhoni represents success” that kind of shut all the other theories. Dhoni represents success, even after his umpteen loses in overseas tests, inspite his frustrating defensive strategies. If, as you say, his decision to retire was calculative, he could have just gone back home saying he was injured, asked for a home series against a crappy West Indies and retired in a swansong, 21 gun salute, the works – instead, he gives Virat another shot at captaincy, especially when there is nothing to lose- his actions only increase his star value in an age where every idiot is trying to become a celebrity- and thats something that irks almost everyone who have envied his success.

    1. Agree with you whole-heartedly.

      Fund-manager image is someone who is ruthless and selfish. Dhoni like that, big NO. He was honest and amazing team-player.

  9. having had the pleasure of meeting Dhoni in his Jharkhand Ranji Days briefly I found him remarkably candid and relaxed… At the end of our brief Conv I said ” you are a talent, I hope you get selected for India ” he said ” yeah I hope so too” that’s it …. Cool and collected … Human very human . Approachable, humble and a reasonably good person. Like any of us. He was never test cricket standard as either keeper or bat. Worlds best limited over exponent though.

  10. A good analysis

  11. Spot on. Dhoni. Fund manager.
    I always argued with my friends that, there’s something about this guy that doesn’t seem ok to me…he may be successful and winning trophies for us and all that….but I don’t know….something that’s not quite right….I ended up saying bugger doesn’t even know how to hold the bat…..

    They blamed me saying I am against anyone who is successful….it’s negativity…and that I should learn to appreciate and all that….hope everyone who said this to me reads this brilliant piece from the one and only….greatbong….

    Thanks great bong, you are instrumental in defining my thoughts….help me express myself in words, which I otherwise am never able to do…..

  12. Arnab: if Dhoni was nothing more than a pragmatic fund manager, then how come he preferred playing K. L. Rahul over Raina in Melbourne? According to your Kohli vs Dhoni logic, if Choice A was a batsman who at best could be expected to cash in on a flat pitch and with a solid platform, and at worst, could only add considerably to slip and overall fielding but be a dud at batting, while Choice B was an unknown whose chief strength was that he was unknown, and who at worst, could be a dismal failure, then, according to you, Dhoni would go for Choice A (Raina). (Also, going for Choice A would have allowed him to favour a fellow CSK batsman, something that you think should have carried weight in Dhoni’s thinking, since you feel that CSK came first over test matches for Dhoni.) But, as we saw, Dhoni opted for Choice B. Furthermore, he also made unconventional choices with Rahul, sending him at No. 3 in the second innings in place of Pujara, knowing full well that he would be heavily criticized if the move failed (as it did, leading to the inevitable after-the-fact criticism). Dhoni also set unconventional fields during the test, keeping a leg-slip when he realized that his useless bowlers were endlessly spraying it all over the place, despite his patient exhortations to “ek line pakadke dal”, that were caught on the stump microphones. BTW, the leg-slip ploy did work, giving us Smith’s wicket on the tense fourth day as India jostled for dominance in a gripping session. (Indeed, Dhoni has tried this unconventional leg-slip ploy earlier as well in test matches.) Dhoni did not really look like by-the book fund manager that you describe him to be, during this test, and indeed during his test captaincy through his career.

    As Dravid pointed out, one does not play 90 test matches, that too as a wicket-keeper batsman, as well as a captain for 60 of those games (a really difficult feat), without having passion, real passion for the format. A mere fund manager would have concluded that the “test fund” had become unprofitable and cheerfully retired from tests after 0-8 in 2011-2012, concentrating on the limited over formats instead for the next few years. That would have been the “pragmatic” thing to do. Dhoni did not do that.

    I think he was one of the most selfless players to play for the country, and he did care a great deal for the country’s test fortunes. There is no doubt in my mind about that. I think it is a sad day for us that he has retired from test cricket.

  13. Irritated Monkey January 5, 2015 — 5:44 am

    Dhoni is being criticized for not showing human weakness in pressure cooker situations. That’s lame. I do understand our need to see our hero showing some emotions so that we can relate with them. Or some heroics like Kumble’s bowling while being injured with a mummified face and still taking a wicket. Dhoni achieved all that and much more without any circus theatrics. BTW Arnab test fund showing red dashboard isn’t correct. He is the most successful test captain of India both number and wining percentage wise. Even better than Dada.

  14. Spot on. And a fund manager is the perfect description. He always was into percentage cricket and a loss never really bothered him. His approach was more that of a corporate employee trying to meet his KPI’s without investing any emotions rather than that of a sportsperson playing for his country and involving himself heart and soul to ensure that he wins it for his country.

  15. Dhoni’s greatness in limited overs cricket comes from the fact he backs his own skill. He has confidence on himself to hold one end and rotate strike if wicket falls early or chase down 50 odd runs in 4 overs.. His captaincy is simply a reflection of that confidence..
    In test he is doubtful about his own skill hence confused as a captain. For all the argument he should have played as a batsman-keeper, I believe Dhoni the captain was just outcome of Dhoni the batsman. Both roles are not separate..

  16. In no professional can anyone achieve the feats that Dhoni achieved if there was no passion. Dhoni is far away from the fund manager stereotype that you are trying to portray, I will rather say he is a rare gem of a project manager. He understands the job at hand , the resources at his disposal and figures out quickly how to make the most of what he has to deliver the project in time. That is only possible if you have a certain level of detachment. You may be playing for your country but at end of the day its just a job to be done. No one understands it better than Dhoni does.He played percentage cricket when that is the need. He also took also took risks that defied every cricketing logic and it paid off at times. All the time it was the same Dhoni , trying to meet the only KPI that matters to the captain – to make your team win.

  17. I ‘m not a fan of Dhoni but people have been brutal ,with him and castigated him left right and centre, after his retirement. I’m touch surprised, by the way people have gone after him, and frankly disappointed that I’m reading pretty much about the same tone.I.,m not a fan of Indian team or Dhoni, but his retirement has been ugly and uglier have been the testaments ,offered by the journalists.
    Frankly , Dhoni as keeper was failing,He was constrained in diving and he missed stumpings lately,something which Dhoni of the past never did.He was captain for 60 tests of the most followed team in the world.Plus he was the keeper,That meant he did not have the luxury to switch off, sometime between the deliveries or dressing room like other personel do.Keeping is at is tough, but captaincy with it for 6 years is commendable indeed.The joy of playing the long form had gone, and Dhoni did the right thing.
    The defensive fields worked for him as early as his second test in charge at Jamtha,when on 3rd morning ,India bowled with 7-2 or 8-1 fields to Katich who was resuming in 80s ,and then squeezed the run rate out of the aussie innings, paving way for a series win.Yes some fields were absurd, like the one which Mishra bowled with in Birmingham,a 3rd man to Cook during his 294, but he had 4 veterans who had collective experience of over 400 tests along with him, yet none chose to point out the obvious to him.
    Yet his commitment is questioned, not of people like Harbhajan,who just said he had a spasm and refused to bowl at Trent Bridge,or Dhawan,who didn’t want to get out to bat.We have been far harsh.He has been good and statesman like,You can question everything about him, but not his commitment.If he was going through the motions, its unlikely he would have scored runs in the last tour of England or in NZ before that, when we all, know he is fairly limited in his batting technique outside India,or the magnificent 200 after 8 wkts had gone down at Chepauk.The thing is before we contemplate,any fantastical reasons, the only reason he bowed out was he wasn’t getting the joy out of the game, and his body has probably been done for good to last the rigors of the five day game.At least he didnt hang about far too long,he quit while he was ahead.

  18. Subhadeep Chakrabarti January 7, 2015 — 3:49 pm

    In ODIs, Dhoni epitomised success. In tests, he was the embodiment of failure.

  19. Dhoni is just a mere hope for the team. His contribution has gradually degraded lots from the matches.

  20. I’ve always felt that Dhoni and Obama are very similar characters. Their range of emotions are a lot narrower than an average person and at their core, they are pragmatists. What you’ve said about not knowing the real Dhoni is something a lot of people (not just Republicans) say about Obama. Another thing that’s common between the two – they are always underestimated by most people – one for lack of technique, the other for lack of experience and political savvy. People have been writing their career obituaries for a long time. Yet, they have achieved more than most heavyweights due to their quiet resolve and the ability to outlast their opponents.

  21. I think you have hit the nail on the head as far as Dhoni’s approach to the game is considered as well as his loyalties to CSK… Despite knowing his “fund manager” approach I yet think myself as a fan – he did captain the WC for India (with THAT 6!)… I guess he is greedy but then who ever thought GOD would go on a money making blitzkrieg (books, movies, games..) after retirement to cash in on his popularity….

  22. Great fun reading the article 🙂 😀 Perfectly described Dhoni…HE’s a Smart Buffalo 😉 agreed. And its a refreshing change to see some stability and substance in the Indian batiing line up when Dhoni was on ramapge Pre and Post world cup. But all good times pass away…He definitely was not a test cricketer…but he certainly is Captain Coool…kewwwl I’d say

  23. Crime Master Gogo January 21, 2015 — 2:53 am

    pfft.. still tons better than Ganguly as a captain.
    So if if Dhoni is shrewd , calculating and cool headed (which btw are essential traits for any captain) then he’s heartless? And if he wasn’t like that you’d probably complain about how he plays with his heart and needs to be smarter etc.

  24. I can remember him for the stand he took and made it a personal battle to bring back the World Cup. For years 3 things have been etched in my heart – 1. Kapil Dev lifting the Cup in 1983, 2. sadly – “Sreeshanth” taking Misbah’s catch at fine-leg and, 3. Dhoni’s Bat dropping after as he completed the sixer in 2011.

  25. Im big fan of Dhoni, I love his playing.

  26. Reading this more than 2 years late..Nice analogy of Dhoni as a fund manager.
    Oh and I was disappointed (to put it mildly) too when when Azharuddin was revealed to be doing what he was doing. I stopped watching cricket for quite some time after that..

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