MS Dhoni: Past perfect, future tense?

The Making of MSD
During that Zimbabwe tour, I remember pulling his leg about his long locks and how cricketers must look a certain way while playing for the country. In jest, I went to the extent of suggesting that his long hair might prove detrimental to his selection prospects! After listening to our banter for a while, he simply said he might well be a trendsetter. And boy, hasn’t he been one! He changed the way a generation of youngsters preferred styling their hair.

He made a smooth transition from the shy boy who spoke only when it was absolutely necessary to someone who now comfortably addresses the nation. I saw some of that intriguing journey from close quarters.

A keen observer, he learnt from the likes of [Sachin] Tendulkar and [Rahul] Dravid the importance of always doing the right thing. ‘Somebody is seeing me for the first time and hence I must make the right impression, and somebody is, perhaps, seeing me for the last time and hence it’s even more important to leave an ever-lasting impression’  –  he followed that principal to the T.

He also seems to have made a conscious decision to develop an extremely cool facade, unfazed, unchanged and unruffled regardless of the situation. Looking at him on the field, it is almost impossible to gauge whether his team is losing or winning. He’s found a Zen-like stillness in his behaviour, which is a breath of fresh air. It’s a complete departure from his predecessors: [Sourav] Ganguly was known for his liberal show of aggression, Dravid for his serious approach and Tendulkar for his over-involvement in the game. Dhoni has carved out his own distinctive ‘Captain Cool’ style; he won’t shout when someone drops a catch, just as he didn’t jump outrageously in joy when he hit a six to win the World Cup final. He plays an all-new brand of cricket, ultra-aggressive on the field, yet calm even in the most trying circumstances.

Brand Dhoni, a first of its kind, had well and truly arrived. Herein lies an important lesson for other celebrities: If you win a rat race, you’re still a rat. It’s imperative to carve your own niche, take the road less travelled and be secure about your place in the world. Dhoni’s ability to remain unfazed stems from his confidence in his abilities.

Beyond huge success, what’s left? For some, it means working tirelessly to achieve immortality. While they work on keeping their current record intact, they are equally consumed, if not more, by the thoughts of the legacy they’re leaving behind; what people will think of them when they aren’t around becomes far more important than what people think of them right now. These thoughts make people cling to whatever they have with a firm grip, which, at times, explains a dip in their performances towards the end of their career.

Dhoni, quite miraculously, doesn’t seem to bother too much about his legacy. He is acutely aware of his strengths and weaknesses, and makes no attempt to camouflage what he doesn’t have. He’s a very successful limited overs player, but his Test cricket record is nothing to boast about. Hence, it doesn’t come as a surprise that he’s already hinted at quitting tests by the end of 2013.

It’s not that he isn’t aware that cricket history has traditionally put people who’ve excelled in Tests on a higher pedestal, regardless of their ODI exploits; MSD simply doesn’t care beyond a point. He intends to keep playing the format he’s really good at, and hopes to create history by defending the World Cup title in 2015. He understands that it will be impossible for his body to sustain the workload of three formats for the next two years, and hence is likely to take a judgement call soon; he knows when to let go. Of course, his absence from the Test arena is likely to dent his brand value, but in professional sport you need to think more about the value you’re adding to the team, and not how much the market values you.

Who knows, Dhoni being Dhoni, he might just set a new trend and change the way cricket greatness and brand value is judged!

Ever after
‘I won’t be criticising cricketers to make a living’, said Dhoni a few years ago when asked about his life post cricket. It might have been a snide dig at cricket experts, but it also told us a lot about his mindset. While everyone, including the very best cricketers, doesn’t rule out anything at the outset, Dhoni seems to have perfectly planned his life after cricket, and media isn’t featuring on that list.

He already owns a motorbike racing team, and has plans to open a chain of gymnasiums across the country. One has also heard he wants to acquire land to open cricket academies and grounds.

He’s not only managing to safeguard Brand Dhoni during his playing days, but has also envisaged a future in which he’s likely to go from strength to strength. Making his own path all the way