01 October 2019 04:35:13 IST

Knowing when to say goodbye, the Dhoni way

India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni walks off the ground after winning the second one-day international cricket match against South Africa in Indore, India, October 14, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

A lot can be learned from him, including the way he has stepped aside to make way for the youngsters

The vulnerability begins to show when someone bests you in a situation that you had mastered. Slowly, the invincibility gives away and the opponent knows that he now stands a chance. And your body, which was once a chiselled work of art, can no longer drive your ambition.

Ask Roger Federer. Yesterday, the most successful male tennis player in the history of lawn tennis lost a close match in the Hopman Cup. And this is how a paper reported the match:

“Roger Federer found himself overmatched — just — by a younger and stronger-serving opponent on Wednesday, losing 7-6 (1), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4) to 19-year-old Alexander Zverev of Germany at the Hopman Cup. The 35-year-old Federer was playing just his second match since returning from a six-month layoff because of a left knee injury.”

But Federer wants to hang around, perhaps push his luck to win one more Grand Slam and bid goodbye in style. That dream, pardon me if this is cruel, will most probably remain unfulfilled. You won’t even need to lock Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in their hotel rooms.

The captain vs the player

But Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not Federer. He is India’s most successful Captain, and the only Captain in cricket to win four multi-team tournaments. But in the last year or two, the aura around the man had been fading and he seemed to be losing the ability to do what he had done so well earlier – carry the team through in close matches. As ESPNcricinfo ’s Sidharth Monga points out – in October 2015, South Africa’s K Rabada denied Dhoni 11 runs in the final over of an ODI. Even in T20. A year later, playing against minnows Zimbabwe, Dhoni couldn’t score eight off the final over.

Then there is Virat Kohli, who has had a successful start to his captainship in Tests. It was only Dhoni who was standing between Kohli and his rise to the leadership role in the shorter formats. This morning newspapers reported that Dhoni had realised that the present national team was more Kohli’s than his. And it was only fair to let Kohli have enough time with the team to prepare for the 2019 World Cup. Chetan Chauhan, the former Test opener, said Dhoni has made a “great sacrifice” for Kohli.

KOLKATA, WEST BENGAL, 19/03/2016: India's Virat Kohli (right) and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni celebrate after winning the match against Pakistan in the ICC World Cup Twenty20 cricket championship at the Eden Gardens cricket stadium in Kolkata on March 19, 2016. Photo: K.R. Deepak


At the same time, Dhoni hasn’t been playing badly. His last five innings in ODIs read 41, 11, 80, 39 and 21. The wicket-keeping was even better, his sharp reflexes resulting in stumpings and run outs. He remains India’s best wicketkeeper-batsman. So even as Dhoni the captain has made his exit, Dhoni the player is still around. But the difference now is that he will have to fight for his place in the playing eleven. Few leaders have shown this kind of maturity.

Timing it

Not many leaders, be it in the corporate, political or even the sporting world, have got it right when it comes to taking the exit door.

Before he retired in 2012, Ratan Tata seemed to be going by the textbook when he took Chairman designate Cyrus Mistry under his wing and saw off the leadership transition in Tata Sons smoothly. The real picture, at least going by Mistry’s claims in the last few months, is something else. Tata, allegedly, could never let go of the trappings of power. Earlier this week, Mistry alleged that as Chairman of Tata Sons he was spending more time handling the demands and views of Tata, than running the Group. There were 555 mails exchanged between Tata and Mistry.

One only hopes that Dhoni doesn’t have any such designs.

Politicians have been the most reluctant when it comes to giving way to the next generation. Africa has at least three leaders who have been reigning over their fiefdoms — or countries — for over 35 years. Back home, LK Advani couldn’t mask his disappointment when the BJP chose Narendra Modi over him as the Prime Minister after its victory in the 2014 General Elections. The ongoing tussle for leadership in the Samajwadi Party mirrors a similar period in the Telugu Desam Party years ago; and underlines the importance of planning a leadership transition.

A lot can be learned from Dhoni. While youngsters can take tips from his batting prowess, leaders can take lessons from his captainship. Dhoni’s is now a model that others would do well to replicate.