Mahendra Singh Dhoni is serene, and yet filled with zeal. He is an athlete, and also a thinker. He’s man and he’s god. An entity energised by contradictions. Much like India itself. Modern and traditional. Hot and cool. On April 2, batting in the World Cup final, only once did Dhoni’s eyes flash in anger. He’d hesitated while starting off for a run and was lucky the direct throw didn’t hit the stumps. He raised his bat and brought it down with a shout and a smack on his padded leg. A rare show of emotion.
But the moment was short-lived, he became his usual self again, Captain Cool, playing an innings of great nous (with its habitual ugly swipe) and won a beautiful victory for India. Gautam Gambhir made more runs, but in everyone’s mind the captain was the Man of the Match of the World Cup final. It was a fair call, Dhoni was the man who put legs to India’s chase, he’s the man who put steel into this Indian team’s spine.
Party tonite Mumbaikars lit up the streets after the Cup win. (Photograph by Dinesh Parab)
The day after, having completed the defining victory of his career, Dhoni is again coolness personified. At the residence of the governor of Maharashtra, with the Arabian Sea washing the shingles below the manicured gardens, Dhoni is the man everyone wants to bow to. Billionaires have come in their Versaces, the catering boys with their crinkly polythene shopping bags. More than anyone else, they have their eyes peeled for one man—it helps that Dhoni has shaved his head, making an eye-popping entry into the gathering.
Everyone wants to pose with him, even the band that played the national anthem and assorted celebratory tunes. And he gladly obliges. I manage to buttonhole Dhoni to ask him about that brief moment of anger the previous night, and he says, “It wasn’t anger, it was intensity. I didn’t want to get out.” But we’re interrupted. A billionaire with wife and daughter wants to meet him. They assure him that he’s the coolest man on the face of the earth—as if he didn’t know that already. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan tells him he’s simply amazing. Supriya Sule, daughter of NCP boss Sharad Pawar, says, “You’re a most amazing leader, and I think all leaders should be like you, cool and under control and confident. If that were so, I think they’d never lose elections!”
Confidence—that’s what it boils down to. Dhoni had the confidence and the self-awareness to know that when Virat Kohli fell and Indian fans felt the cold hand of doubt on their spine, it was his turn to take up the challenge. With the team needing 161 runs, the situation demanded a clear mind and quick legs. Dhoni didn’t have many runs against his name before that innings, but he knew he could do the job—he knew he would do the job. The man has the coolest head in Indian cricket for he’s not afraid of failure, of having to return to play Ranji cricket for Jharkhand.
Dhoni exemplifies the self-belief of the small-town Indian, an absence of a history of failure in the psyche—there never was much opportunity before the 1990s, and there was, consequently, no great failure. Dhoni’s life would have been successful enough if he’d only played cricket for the Railways and worked as a ticket collector. He’s gone beyond the fear of failure, as have many others in this Indian team. In Dhoni’s team there are players born in Kothamangalam, Shrirampur, Ghaziabad, Jalandhar, Najafgarh, Aligarh, Ikhar, Baroda and Ranchi. There are players from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai too, but the core isn’t made, unlike in the past, exclusively of metro boys.
Senior journalist Kumar Ketkar isn’t surprised at the emergence of the confident, small-town superstar. He believes it’s a linear growth that occurred due to two important developments of the last 40-odd years—banking and communications spreading their networks into the hinterland. “When Indira Gandhi nationalised banks in 1969, the network spread and in some 15 years, many more Indians had the benefit of banking and the advantages it brings—savings, loans etc,” Ketkar says. And with it, prosperity, confidence and mobility.
Then came the focus on tech and communications in the 1980s, which resulted, again 15 years later, in the media boom and telecommunications. “Now we’re seeing the first or second generation of people who have been exposed to these developments,” Ketkar says. He feels the concept of India vs Bharat is sickening and patronising. “Something sensational like cricket had to come to make us aware of this reality, that small-town India is confident and surging ahead,” he adds.
Communal watch Streetside viewing in Calcutta. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook, April 18, 2011)
Big change has been afoot in India for 20 years, but the transformation in the hinterland is radical. Social commentator Santosh Desai calls the degree of change in big and small cities “asymmetrical”, because they had different starting positions. Historically, small-town India didn’t have much exposure. “But now, because of TV and the internet, all of India, metropolitan, small-town or rural, has the same benchmarks,” he says. More people are now living their lives with respect to a common text that runs through most of India. “That creates and unleashes energies of a different type, and from little possibilities you find you have many and you measure yourself against them,” he argues.
The emergence of small-town players has been aided by the space crunch and the marginalisation of the weak in the big urban centres. In big cities, there are fewer grounds, and a sports career is a luxury because of the high expenses in coaching and travelling—which is ironical, for most successful sportspersons come from the relatively disadvantaged sections of society. Small towns have greater possibilities for an aspiring cricketer, says sociologist Dipankar Gupta, explaining, “It’s so because there people from the lower classes still have some influence. If you’re a schoolteacher or a bank clerk, your children will have a ground to go to, and coaching is cheap. In a city, you’d need a fair amount of money to do the same.”
It’s not like there have never been players from humble backgrounds, Ketkar notes. It’s just that they were all from big cities. “There were working-class players, but they were big-city people with a cricketing connection—the sons of groundsmen, for instance,” says Shashi Tharoor, writer and MP. “Today cricket has spread far more into the hinterland, a reflection of an India that is both urbanising rapidly and becoming more cosmopolitan at all levels. It may well explain both the strength of the team—we have a much broader talent pool to draw from now than we ever did—and its hunger to succeed.”
BJP MP and cricket official Anurag Thakur says the small-town Indian was bound to dominate cricket because 70 per cent of the country’s population still lives in the villages and mofussil towns. “And it’s not just in cricket...just look at boxer Vijender Kumar, wrestler Sushil Kumar or athlete Ashwini Akkunji,” Thakur says, stressing on the need to provide infrastructure in smaller places. “There would be a boom then,” he predicts. “The BCCI has done that, and the results are becoming visible.” This was also helped by the emergence of Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid when cable TV came into the country. “The BCCI marketed the game well,” Thakur adds.
Even in the absence of infrastructure or coaching, Dipankar Gupta observes, it’s possible to develop players. “Gavaskar or Wadekar became good not because of coaching, but because they had the talent and the discipline,” he says. So it’s not the quality of coaching that is decisive—talent by itself is decisive. And if a player has the talent and access to even limited infrastructure, he can develop if given opportunities. In other words, access to infrastructure, however ramshackle, is key—and small towns provide precisely that.
The small-town player has developed, and he’s confident and comfortable in his own skin. He’s not bothered by idle chatter. Kapil Dev, 28 years ago, at Lord’s, wore a formal jacket when he received the Prudential trophy. Dhoni is ‘chilled’ enough to receive the World Cup—as he did for the T20 World Cup trophy—in a sleeveless tee. Even metro boy Sachin Tendulkar believes there’s this hunger among players from smaller places (see interview).
Actor Rahul Bose, though, disagrees. “This ‘small town hunger’ myth should be done away with,” he told Outlook. “For every small-town winner, there are nine small-town losers staring at the ceilings of their homes. The hungriest sportspersons in this country have been Tendulkar, Dravid, Vishy Anand, Kumble, Saina Nehwal, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi. All ‘big town’ products.” He says hunger has more to do with nature, talent, family, immediate influences and socio-politico-cultural factors, than a simplistic solution like geography.
Far corners Even in Siliguri, Bengal, they woke up the night. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook, April 18, 2011)
What’s certain is that the small-town cricketer possesses certain markers. He may be cool, but he’s also traditional. Dhoni shaved his head the morning after for religious reasons; Raina rushed to Shirdi for thanksgiving. Munaf Patel is a religious man who’s reputed to be free with his money when it comes to the needy. Yusuf Pathan is a serious-minded environmentalist who avoids parties. Yet, like the young generation of a new India, they love to spend, partake of the luxury. Dhoni loves his 23 bikes and fleet of cars, which includes a Hummer. And they are, taking a leaf from the new entrepreneurial India, forging business partnerships and investing their money well—in real estate, restaurants, coaching academies. Says Tharoor, “Dhoni is the small-town boy made good, the son of a Class IV karamchari who now enjoys multi-crore endorsements,” Tharoor says. “He brings the confidence and joy of a self-made man to the cricket field, and the team he leads embodies the same faith in itself.”
Money helps, but former Indian player Abbas Ali Baig thought it was insensitive and crass of the BCCI to announce Rs 1 crore to each player within minutes of India becoming the world champions. “They are not sensitive about the game,” Baig says. “They throw money at the players and think that’s enough. They don’t know what a cricketer goes through, what his problems are. I’d like cricketers to run the game in the country.”
As would most commoners, who were out on the roads to celebrate the win over Sri Lanka. They choked Marine Drive, Connaught Place, Sector 35, Bankarai and Guindy in different cities—and the same was reflected in small-town India too. Filmmaker Shyam Benegal was reminded of the 2005 rugby World Cup in South Africa, which saw Nelson Mandela uniting the black and white populace through this white man’s sport. “You have the whole of Maharashtra cheering for a team with players from all corners of India and headed by a boy from Ranchi,” notes filmmaker Sudhir Mishra. “It was all about bringing cheer in what are pretty gloomy times. It was about a nation’s pride and an affirmation of itself. I haven’t seen such spontaneous outpouring, people coming out together on the streets, since 1977 the time of the JP movement.”
In the aftermath of the win and the street celebrations, that led up to Anna Hazare’s fast-to-death over a bill against corruption, a wave of hope swept the country. It seems the country feels it could do with a new, strong leader.
But that’s a task that Dhoni can’t handle, at least for now. He’s handling people’s expectations over cricket, and he’s doing alright. “I don’t think it’s pressure—I take pressure and hand it to my players,” he told Outlook. “The expectations of the people isn’t pressure for me. I treat that as support.” Unlike our other leaders, Dhoni has lived up to India’s expectations, and that too in his first World Cup as captain.
Manor And Manner
The Men in Blue and some of their favourite things
Grade A (Rs 1 crore)
Grade B (Rs 50 lakh)
Grade C (Rs 25 lakh)
By Rohit Mahajan in Mumbai and Delhi with inputs from Namrata Joshi
I am no Outlook fan but I still spent Rs 25 and bought the World Cup Special (The Mohalla, The World, Apr 18). Sachin’s interview and his mentioning Gandhiji gave me immense joy. Thank you both, Sir Mehta and Sir Tendulkar.
Kiran M. Joshi, Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat
A kind word about Pakistan or Sri Lanka, after victories over them, would not have been remiss. I was disappointed that no such public commiserations were expressed by the Indian camp, including the little master.
We’ll stay on top for a year or two but it’s downhill thereafter. Our bowling’s patchy, Zaheer is ageing and Harbhajan takes fewer wickets each day. Sachin too won’t last forever. We need a second line in place.
A.A. Bhimaiah, Arsikere, Karnataka
Great, we won a World Cup after 28 years, but does the BCCI have a long-term plan or is it going to be another interminable 28-year wait?
There’s little that can be added to Sachin’s resume now. A triple century in Tests perhaps, or a Bharat Ratna.
This talk of the BCCI inspiring rural players through cricket telecasts is hogwash. They did everything for money and the new popularity of this game was a byproduct. If they had put money back into the game, you think we’d still be without a genuine pacer? Even small nations like Sri Lanka have been able to produce them.
Nasar Ahmed, Karikkudi
Sachin is such a humble person and people still say he plays for records, not for the team or the nation. This country needs better people.
It was magic and madness in Mumbai on April 2, 2011. And to top it all, it was my birthday too. Couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift.
Rohit Bhandiye, Panaji
Long live cricket, the national pastime of India.
George Olivera, Mysore
Dhoni plays his cricket by the sas motto: he who dares wins.
Ashok Lal, Mumbai
Patience pays in the end. Calm and unruffled when required, tough and firm when the situation demands it, Dhoni is the complete package.
Shashi Yadav, Shahjahanpur
How...how...how does this guy still manage to stay humble?
Kiran, Grenoble, France
Mahi way! That’s the way!
Aakanksha J., on e-mail
How gracious you were in defeat, Sangakkara! Hats off to you and your team.
G. Niranjan Rao, Hyderabad
There was no Newtonian inevitability about the World Cup falling into Team India's lap. Gautam Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni peered into the abyss and clawed their way back. An aircraft flying through exceptional turbulence never had two better men in the cockpit.
I object to the author when he says BCCI has inspired the rural players to come out throught the telecasting of Cricket.BCCI is a rich monolith and a money spinning machine.Cricket popularity grew due to commercial interest.They did everything for money and one of the fallouts is the popularity of this game.
If the BCCI has worked to establish rural cricket clubs and scholarships they will find many motivated cricketers and Sachins and Dhonis.Theys hould have ploughed the money back in to the game by going after them.Out of a billion people they are unable to find a pace bowler.Far smaller countries like SriLanka are able to produce fine cricketers.
BCCI has no plans to develop youngsters and they come out of their shell on their own talent and hardwork.Sometimes due to lcuky breaks.BCCI is run by rich and powerful who hold the post for prestige and fame not for criket.In fact they do not have any passion for the development of cricket.Flushed with money they are enjoying the perks this organization offers.
"Filmmaker Shyam Benegal was reminded of the 2005 rugby World Cup in South Africa, which saw Nelson Mandela uniting the black and white populace through this white man’s sport."
In the article i noted a factual error, for god sake the rugby world cup took place in the year 1995 and not 2005.
We won a world cup after 28 years, great at least we won the cup. I wonder if BCCI has any long term plan? We don't want to wait another 20 years to win another world cup. The media is capable of keeping the hype for another 20 years, since do not have anything sport to talk about. The media needs a hero, sachin fitted the bill and now Dhoni. We were lucky to win a world cup with poor bowling. I am not sure if Zaheer would be playing the 2015 world cup (at 36 years). With the kind of bowling we have, i cannot imagine winning another world cup in 2015. In the article "“The BCCI isn’t sensitive about the game. They throw money at the players and think that’s enough. They don’t know what a cricketer goes through.” Abbas Ali Baig, Ex-Test cricketer"
It is very important point, being the richest board in the world does not guarantee success until the the money is put in for development. Why are politicians running the show? we are shameless and very unprofessional. Having a Sachin around didnt win us a world cup , we need a strong team. Hope we do not have to wait another 25 years to see india win another world cup.
the team had the potential since 2003 but the execution lacked the edge.with small town leader mahendra sing dhoni and his calculations the team got its gift for the country.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT