For a long time, MS Dhoni was simply seen to be riding his luck in the eyes of his detractors. In their reasoning, his run of good fortune would come sooner than later. They are still waiting. Since being given the India captaincy for the first World Twenty20 in 2007, at the suggestion of the "Big Three" of cricket in his country, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, Dhoni's star has only risen, surprising pundits who saw little worth in his leadership beyond his unflappable temperament.
There have been no obvious signs of genius, or a decision to debate. He has not inverted the batting order, like Sir Donald Bradman, to negotiate the vagaries of a wet pitch, or opened the attack with a spinner, like Martin Crowe did. He has not even turned the tables on the pioneer of "mental disintegration", Steve Waugh, by keeping him waiting at the toss. Instead, he has been humble and polite; modest in victory and gracious in defeat.
Yet, his success at the helm has been remarkable, if not phenomenal. In the 133-year history of Test cricket, Dhoni is the only captain who never tasted defeat in his first 11 games. Up to now he has endured just one defeat in 13 Tests. In that time there have been nine victories and India are No 1 in the International Cricket Council's Test rankings. In the one-day internationals, India are ranked No 2 with Dhoni winning 44 of his 78 matches as captain.
The returns in Twenty20 are not that impressive, with only nine wins from 19, but they still have a world title in that format of the game. So what makes Dhoni tick? Imran Khan, the legendary Pakistan captain, explained it best during a recent trip to the UAE. "A good leader must have courage; he must be able to lead from the front," he said. "Dhoni does that. A good captain must believe in taking risky decisions; something Dhoni does seem to have; and a captain must lead by example. When a captain puts in his 100 per cent, the team follows."
Courage and calm are perhaps Dhoni's greatest assets. He shows the poise of a matador in the most testing of circumstances. You will never see him running down to the bowler after every shot to the fence, or scream at a misfield. At the crease, he will trudge around nonchalantly as wickets fall at the other end. Instead, he will fight with a self-assuredness seldom, if ever, seen in Indian cricket. And the numbers prove that fact.
A more recent exhibition of his ability to lead from the front came earlier in the week, when he carried Chennai Super Kings into the semi-finals of the Indian Premier League virtually single-handedly. Chennai's hopes of making the last four appeared to be in serious jeopardy as they needed 16 off the last over to beat Kings XI Punjab. It was win or bust time, but luckily for Chennai Dhoni was the man on strike.
The first ball went for four, the second for two, then two massive sixes completed a famous victory with two balls to spare and showed Dhoni to be a true captain marvel. Little wonder then that Wisden, the cricket almanack, picked Dhoni to lead their Dream Test XI of 2009. The ICC named him captain for both their Test and ODI teams in the same year. His growing stature was further confirmed by Forbes, who put him at the top of their list of world's top earning cricketers.
In India, to outstrip Tendulkar in the popularity charts is no mean achievement, and it looks as if there is even more to come from Dhoni. firstname.lastname@example.org