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The Dhoni phenomenon

How long will he be the Ďmaneí attraction?

Cricket commentary
MIND GAME

FOURTH UMPIRE

April 25, 2006: Mahendra Singh Dhoni, hero no. 1. His reaction couldnít have been better. He said rankings didnít matter but the team winning does. The only problem being that we have heard such politically correct statements so often from the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar that we no longer believe in them. In an advertising driven world, it matters a lot at the individual level to be the number one player, much more than whether your team wins or not. Ask Sachin Tendulkar. His riches were made on the fact that he was the best batsmen of his times even though he was part of the losing team. 

Dhoni is already being described as a phenom and no less a personality than Sunil Gavaskar has commented that he has seen only one player Ė Vivian Richards Ė walk to the crease with a greater swagger. Obviously, Sunny is talking about confidence and the disdain with which bowlers are treated. Vivian Richards was so confident that during Test matches, he had this habit of catching 40 winks when is padded up, ready to go in. When his turn comes, he used to splash some water on his face, take his bat and swagger to the crease. Making it abundantly clear to the 14 people on the field (including the umpires) who the master was and who the slaves were.

No doubt, it is early to compare Dhoni with Richards. But then, cricket has often produced these destructive batsmen who instill awe in opposing teams. Sanath Jayasuriya at his peak was one such player. Teams didnít know how to bowl at him in ODIs because he would slash and cut and before fielders could react, the boundary ropes would have been breached. Adam Gilchrist nearly became such a player and so did Mathew Hayden but both have sort of mellowed down. Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar evoked more a sense of wonder than fear. One reason for this is because both are artists rather than marauders. Another reason is that both played for losing teams. While they amassed runs, bowlers knew that they had enough chances against the other 10 players. In a way, almost everyone, including Tendulkarís peers, certified him to be the best player for precisely this reason. They didnít mind doing it because, it didnít matter. 

Dhoniís case is different because his team mates are also playing well and therefore a good innings from him means the match is gone the India way. Letís not forget a man called Virender Sehwag in all this discussion. He was the one who redefined aggressive batting in India so successfully that even Tendulkar used to say that run rate was not an issue when he batted. And Sehwag is not finished yet. Some of his hair may have fallen but his batting muscles are still in tact. Forget the ICC ratings. After all, these ratings were invented not long ago. The contest for the most exciting batsman is between Sehwag and Dhoni. For the nonce, Dhoni makes the crowds roar but Sehwag may just give him a hot chase. And the winner will walk away with, well, all the ads.

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