Dhoni picks players like film directors choose stars
India produced a calm, matured performance to lift the World Cup. You have to admire the self-belief and class of Dhoni and his men, for not once did the team flinch in the eye of the storm. It was service as usual, whether Mahela was playing a classic or Sehwag and Tendulkar had been condemned to the confines of the dressing room.
India remained unfazed and ran past all hurdles with Dhoni the magnificent, clearing the flag post with a perfect straight drive to win the race for India. And for Tendulkar.
In sports you can prepare a life time and still not make the podium. Even with an astonishing body of work behind him, Tendulkar was pricked by the thought of a winless World Cup career, a heart ache that he had shared with his team and country.
Dhoni`s men took upon them selves to grant him his wish, especially as he had never asked anything of them, and stuck together for mission Tendulkar. Winning the Cup was the best gift they could have thanked him with for his unfathomable contribution to Indian cricket.
A One day career even as rich and magnificent as Tendulkar`s needed the topping of a World Cup win because all your one day performances mean less if you have not held the trophy in your hands. With his career now reaching climactic portions, he will look upon this win possibly as the biggest of his career as it officially stamps him a champion.
We know that Tendulkar`s appetite for the game is insatiable but with the World Cup in the bag and nothing much to look forward to, he can now move on from this format to the more sedate but challenging medium of Test cricket, a platform that still needs his genius.
Speaking of genius, India could not have won the Cup without the irrepressible Dhoni. You can rave about other performers in the team but they are dwarfed by Dhoni`s impact on the tournament.
Who could have known when he was picked to lead India few seasons back that hidden behind the exterior of a placid rustic face was not a simpleton from Ranchi but a shrewd sinewy competitor. Any other person belonging from such an unfashionable part of India, thrown at the deep end to lead the greats of the game, would have suffered from a seizure of low esteem.
But Dhoni is built like a fortress, impenetrable and grand. Sanjay Manjrekar told me that when he popped a question to a great Indian batsman about Dhoni`s leadership and what makes him click as a leader of legends, he replied his ability to know his boundaries.
He may have never crossed his limits with Sachin or Sehwag, but that did not make him a soft captain. In fact, he was not shy to throw a challenge at his men after the South Africa choke, when in a shielded attack, he denounced the penchant of few to play more for the gallery than the cause of the team.
Captaincy beside other things is about straight talking and timing a warning to the players to wake them up to the contest. India never looked back in the tournament after that siren was played by it`s captain.
Hardly ever is he paled by a defeat. He remains relaxed in searing moments of the game which helps him to think better on the job and pick right options to wriggle out of tough scenarios. How he maintains balance and brilliance between keeping and captaincy, both pressure filled punishing and thankless tasks, is worth a case study.
His famous Hindi comments at a press conference in fact sums up his calm interior: pressure lenay ka nahin denay ka hai!
He picks players like film directors do, only who will suit the script and will rally behind them to make it a successful story. In this World Cup, he made strong selection decisions that did not sit well with common logic yet he stuck to his guns and made people respect his logic.
Piyush Chawla made a comeback on sound cricket grounds that a leg-spinner is not only a wicket taking option but a match winning option at home against non-Asian teams.
He introduced Ashwin, an unknown quality, to new ball bowling and had the guts to re-launch Nehra in a big semi final game against Pakistan in place of popular choice Ashwin, after entire India had turned hostile against him and his medium pace bowler for the last over disaster against South Africa.
The benching of in-demand Yousaf Pathan for Suresh Raina was another jigsaw that he solved effortlessly. Such gestures showed his uncluttered approach towards cricket, based on his own analysis and gut feeling, not influenced by popular perceptions.
A captain who thinks without a bias and knows the true value and potential of his troops is a player`s dream. This trust and mindset contributes to a healthy dressing room environment which inspired India to take the leaders position at the podium.
A World Cup victory can not be weighed in any concrete measurement. How can you have a scale for pride, passion, delight or honour. India got the lot and more from Dhoni`s team.
It`s now it`s duty to use responsibly the status of the World Champion tag and show, with grace and dignity, the leadership qualities in governing the game. It has to deal intelligently with thorny issues like the DRS, playing Pakistan, players fatigue, managing the three formats to ensure their attractiveness and efficacy, globalisation of the sport and helping the minnows.
Even though it may have been hard on the Associate members but the decision of a 10 team World Cup is justified. Fans want quality and competition at such a high profile event and we saw quite a few mis-match ties in this WC which lowered it`s image.
Having said that the minnows need constant grooming and attention as disengagement will defeat the purpose of globalisation. They need nurturing and caring and should be exposed to big events only after they have registered an improvement. Getting bashed at world events would not only dent them mentally but it would be bad advertisement for the game of cricket.
Pakistan at this WC may have returned home empty handed but it won the hearts of it`s people. The players were greeted like heroes because Pakistan became one and united under them.
The World also got to see the strength of Indo-Pak contest. All those people in positions who were cold and indifferent towards it were seeing queuing up to use the occasion to cash in.
The governments, the media and the ICC had been given enough evidence in the past also, of the enormous strength of Indo-Pak tussle, to know that uncoupling the two could mean a turbulent world and a colourless cricket calendar.
Yet, all of them allowed the most engaging cricket rivalries to get stuck by petty politics. To me that game at Mohali was the heart of the World Cup more than the final at Mumbai.