KARACHI // As one prominent Indian cricket sponsor might put it, life is good for Mahendra Dhoni at present, despite what he would have you believe. Dhoni is in the runs, with a tournament average of 139 scored at almost a run-a-ball in the Asia Cup. More importantly, he has got the world's second most whimsical side - after their rivals Pakistan - playing brilliant one-day cricket.
They go into today's final against Sri Lanka as favourites, after scoring an important psychological blow on their opponents with an easy win in the group stage on Thursday evening. Yet the Indians tend to have a psychological black spot when it comes to finals. It was evident when they were shocked by Pakistan in the final of the tri-series in Dhaka last month. So how important is psychology in cricket captaincy? A lot, according to Mike Brearley, the former England captain: "One of the things you have to do as a captain is get into people's minds and see something about what is going on, whether they are good things or bad things, if people are worried or down, and how they are going to get out of being down," he said. Brearley actually quit the game to devote more time to his psychoanalysis studies, before returning to guide England to their famous Ashes win in 1981.
Comparatively, Dhoni is an interesting case after proving his skills as a young captain who came from a modest town but is leading India by example in a fairly short career span already. The Indian captain currently features in 20 different advertisements on Indian television - but his captaincy is hardly suffering. The modest skipper says it is all down to a lot of help from his friends. "It is not about being a captain, it is about being a team-mate, being a member of the team," said Dhoni. "It is the 15 or 16 who make a good captain.
"It is a bunch of cricketers who are doing well. They are taking the pressure off the skipper. The batsman are doing their job, the bowlers are doing their job. "As a team we are doing well, and when that happens there is no real pressure on the captain." "If the bowlers are struggling the batsmen are taking the responsibility. Then the bowlers are responding if the batsmen aren't making too many runs."
Dhoni was criticised after he complained about the amount of cricket his players were being forced to play at the start of the Asia Cup group stage. However, he showed semblance of remorse this week. "You don't always get back-to-back games," he said. "It is only once in a while that it happens. It is demanding but as a professional cricket you have to be ready for it." After running a couple of runs late in his half-century in the loss to Pakistan on Wednesday, Dhoni had a lie down to rest between overs. He added: "It is draining if you are out there for 40 overs and then you have to keep wickets for 50. It will be tough if you only have 14 hours before you play your next game. You don't always get situations like this, but we are professionals and when the next match comes we are raring to go."