June 2019 photo of M.S. Dhoni during net practice at The Oval, London. Dhoni will mentor the Indian side in the 2021 ICC Men's T20 World Cup which starts on October 17. (Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers)
If you are hearing the sound of helicopter blades whirring, it’s because M.S. Dhoni is arriving.
The World T20 became hot property because of India. They won the inaugural edition in 2007 in swagalicious fashion. The team’s captain was Dhoni.
Four years later, the wicketkeeper-batsman-boss led India to the 50-over World Cup victory. Along the way were a million IPL titles with the Chennai Super Kings.
As a batsman, Dhoni’s ability to calmly plot a chase, clear the ropes and his helicopter shot gave him a distinct identity.
Now, he is going to be India’s mentor at the event he had a hand in popularizing – the WorldT20.
Teams already have a captain and coach. What does a mentor do? No one defined the job better than a man who is unDhoni in his personality but is one of India’s greatest batsmen and mentors.
"Coaches focus on concrete issues of the game but mentors go beyond what coaches do,” Rahul Dravid said in 2013 at a function organised by the Karnataka State Cricket Association. “Their focus is on matters including self-confidence and self-perception."
Thanks to stump microphones, we have had a glimpse into Dhoni’s mentoring style.
“Taarak Mehta! Daalta reh!” he once told R. Ashwin, as a way of telling him to continue bowling his surprise delivery.
At a Mastercard event not long ago, Dhoni elaborated on his approach to preparing for a game or a campaign. Breaking the mission ahead into small parts was one of his methods.
Dhoni also spoke specifically about the 2007 World T20. The tournament format was such that a tied match would be decided by a bowl-out, in which a member of each team would be required to hit the stumps with a delivery.
India were not familiar with the routine. Dhoni decided right at the start that they would practice bowl-outs. It was a task that seemed simple in practice, but wasn’t so in nerve-wracking match conditions.
“You break it into smaller things. There was something very particular about that T20 World Cup. Bowl-out was one of the things,” Dhoni said. “Before that we had never practiced bowl-out. So what we did as a team was whenever we went for practice, we said to start the practice off we’ll have a bowl-out.”
Dhoni’s instructions to the team were clear. Specialist bowlers shouldn’t assume they’d be chosen for the job in case a match went to bowl-out. The opportunity would go to those who hit the stumps in practice the most, even if they were batsmen.
As it happened, when India defeated Pakistan by bowl-out in a league match, Virender Sehwag sent down the first ball. He was on target.
“We used a lot of bowlers who were not regular bowlers. We prepared in a way that we were ready for it,” Dhoni said.
Being expressive as a team, and each member performing his role were two other reasons why India emerged triumphant in the tournament, Dhoni said.
“We wanted to be more expressive on the field,” Dhoni said. “And I felt throughout that T20 World Cup the roles and responsibilities that were given to individuals were fulfilled in the best manner possible. That was the reason we won the tournament.”
Over to World T20, 2021. And once again, M.S. Dhoni is around. The more things change, the more they remain Mahi.