Cricket: Dhoni quits lead role

By Simon Briggs

India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Photo / AP
India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Photo / AP

The genius of the Indian Premier League, the theory goes, is to combine two national obsessions: cricket and Bollywood. Yet the more you look back at the career of Mahendra Singh Dhoni - the long-serving India captain who finally stood down this week - the more you realise that he got there first.

Last year, Dhoni's life story was turned into a big-budget movie, The Untold Story, which came in at an 3 hours 10 minutes and has taken more than 15 million at the box office.

Sushant Singh Rajput filled the title role with verve and courage, for it cannot have been easy to portray this messianic figure.

The young Dhoni had a Brando-esque charisma. The long hair, the buffalo shoulders, the motorbike fetish. Bursting on the scene as a wild man from Ranchi, one of the poorest cities in the country, his technique was as rustic as his origins. But when he monstered Pakistan for 148 in his fifth international in 2005, his flair was unmistakable.

In most cases, sportsmen express their character through their style. So when Dhoni captained India for the first time, in a Twenty20 match against Pakistan, we anticipated a hot-headed tenure.

We were wrong.

It turned out that Dhoni's flamboyance was accidental - a result of the fact that, in his own words, "I was a slogger when I came into the team".

Captain Dhoni proved to be more ice than fire. His response to a half-volley was never to hurl his cap to the ground. Instead, he would raise one glove thoughtfully to his lips. His bowlers responded with devotion, grateful for his self-restraint.

Dhoni was thus the ideal guide for a nation that never lacks passion in its cricket, but could be prone to flare-ups and meltdowns. Under his patient stewardship, India achieved a full house: all three international limited-overs trophies, plus the top ranking in tests.

This all sounds deceptively simple in hindsight. Yet the job of India cricket captain is so pressurised, it makes managing the England football team look like a hobby. In his resignation Dhoni put India first. He knows that Virat Kohli is the beating heart of the dressing-room now.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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