It is hard to fully comprehend just how popular Mahendra Singh Dhoni really is. The attention he garners is certainly rare. No matter which corner of the world the Indian cricket team plays in, no matter which city Chennai Super Kings plays in, no matter the other players involved in the match – the loudest cheer is always reserved for Dhoni.
Among active athletes, there are very few in the world who command such respect or adoration. Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James are some names that come to mind when one thinks of such popularity.
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Relive some epic moments, rare interviews and more from the world of sport.
It isn’t only about what they have achieved as professionals that has helped these athletes find a special place in fans’ hearts. There’s a lot more to it. A big reason why they have reached such heights is their personality, the way they carry themselves on and off the field/court.
The past few months have provided a remarkable reminder of the impact Dhoni has had on everyone around him. He hasn’t played professionally since last July and all sports have come to a standstill for a while now due to the coronavirus pandemic, yet, Dhoni has managed to consistently be one of the hot topics in India.
Current players, former teammates, rivals, experts, fans – everyone has had something to say about Dhoni in the lockdown period.
All the while, the man himself, as he usually does, has kept a low profile.
One aspect about Dhoni’s popularity that tends to get disregarded, which in turn makes it even more fascinating, is that he himself seems completely detached from it. At a time when almost every athlete is trying her/his best to remain in the public eye by going into overdrive on social media, Dhoni has stayed away from limelight and yet dominated cricket headlines.
On that note, we take a look at some of the comments about Dhoni over the past couple of months:
‘Didn’t use his strategy during my 209’: Rohit Sharma
“You know how it is with MS in the middle. He likes to talk, he likes to keep adding his thoughts about what I should do. He was telling me ‘you’re the set batsman and I want you to bat till the 48th, 49th of 50th over, because you can hit any bowler anywhere you want. So let me take chances, you just take a backseat, take singles, knock the ball in the gaps, and find the odd boundary if you can’. And I just thought ‘no yaar, I’m seeing the ball really well and I might as well put pressure on the bowlers right here, right now’. Then I decided to just go after the bowlers. And I remember hitting Xavier Doherty for four sixes in an over.”
‘Still India’s No 1 wicketkeeper’: Mohammad Kaif
“People think that there is a gap and had he played in the IPL it would have been easier for him to make a comeback. But I don’t think so. Dhoni is such a big player, he is a proper match-winner who knows how to play under pressure at No 6 and 7 and he is absolutely fit. So in my mind Dhoni is the No 1 player. No matter how many players come, you cannot replace Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He scored runs in that World Cup match against New Zealand and had a good partnership with Jadeja. He played well in that match and almost won us the game. I think Dhoni is still the No 1 wicket-keeper. He is amazingly fit and he should not be sidelined in a hurry.”
‘He empowers CSK players’: Dwayne Bravo
“The moment you are in the dressing room, MS tells us: ‘you are here because you’re good enough’. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone. He [Dhoni] never puts any pressure on the players. He is also ready to have conversations or play video games. He creates an atmosphere where everybody in the team is comfortable and never acts like a big superstar, considering all that he has achieved in his career.”
‘Genius during 2007 World T20 bowl-out’: Robin Uthappa
“One of the things that MS did really well, and that he did different from what the Pakistan ‘keeper (Kamran Akmal) did was, where he stood behind the stumps. The Pakistan ‘keeper was standing where a wicketkeeper usually stands – few feet back and beside the stump, just alongside the stump. But MS was (sitting) right behind the stumps and that made it so much easier for us. We just had to bowl at MS and it gave us the best chance to hit the wickets. That’s all we did.”
‘The greatest finisher’: Michael Hussey
“Dhoni is the greatest finisher of all time that the cricketing world has ever produced. He can keep his cool and make the opposition captain blink first. He also has unbelievable power. He knows that when he needs to clear the ropes he can do it. He has that kind of self-belief. Honestly, I didn’t have that kind of belief in myself. He is incredible. He believes that he who panics last wins the game. So Dhoni would keep his cool, and keep it longer because the pressure is on the bowler as well.”
‘When Dhoni lost his temper’: Kuldeep Yadav
“Kusal (Perera) smashed a boundary over the covers. Dhoni Bhai shouted from behind the wickets and asked me to change the fielding. I did not listen to his suggestion and next ball, Kusal hit another boundary with a reverse sweep. (...) Then angry Dhoni came up to me and said, ‘’main pagal hu? 300 one-day khela hoon, aur samjha raha hoon yahaan pe.’ (Am I mad? I have played 300 ODIs and you are not listening to me).
“I was so scared of him that day. After the match, I went up to him in the team bus and asked if he ever got angry. he replied: ‘20 saal se gussa nahi kiya hai (I have never been angry in the last 20 years).”
‘He was batting so well’: Suresh Raina
“It was a nice camp [with Chennai Super Kings before lockdown]. I was there for two months but then lockdown happened. Got to spend some time with Dhoni. He was batting so well in the nets, he had the hunger of a youngster. In one session, he batted for three hours at a stretch.”
‘An unbiased captain’: RP Singh
“We had a discussion about where I could improve, what I can do to get better. I know MS Dhoni. Friendship is a different thing, but leading the country is different altogether. At that moment, I think he pushed the ones who he thought were better. I think he pushed people whom he thought would follow the plans better. This is why MS Dhoni is MS Dhoni today. His unbiased opinions on cricket and decision making. I didn’t play as much as I should have because maybe my speed dipped and my swing dipped. Everything else is secondary. If I had improved then, I would have played more. But I am happy with whatever I achieved.”
‘Credit to him for Rohit’s evolution’: Gautam Gambhir
“I remember Rohit Sharma had a miserable Sri Lanka tour in 2012. When we returned I Whatsapp’d him [probably the first time I did that to anyone], saying that he is going to rule Indian cricket. I knew he had the talent and good on Dhoni that he backed him. You have to give a lot of credit to Dhoni for the evolution of Rohit and for making him open the batting. Not a lot of players have been backed the way Rohit has been.”
‘He does get angry’: Irfan Pathan
“In 2006-07, during a warm-up session, we had a game where the right-handed batsman would bat with the left hand and vice-versa. After we finished the warm-up, we used to get into our practice. So, during the warm-ups, there were two teams. Once MS Dhoni was given out which he didn’t think he was. He threw his bat and made a dash to the dressing room and came late for the practice. So, he does get angry.”
‘Don’t think he’ll play for India again’: Harbhajan Singh
“When I was in Chennai Super Kings camp, people asked me about Dhoni. I don’t know, it’s up to him. You need to know whether he wants to play for India again. As far as I know him, he won’t want to wear the India blue jersey again. IPL he will play but for India I think he had decided World Cup 2019 was his last.”
‘Very different from others’: Greg Chappell
“I thought Dhoni was one of the most exciting young cricketers. He was very different from everyone else... very hard to bowl to. He was also the strongest, most powerful batsman I’ve seen. I’ve played with and against some very good players, but Dhoni’s ability to hit boundaries is greater than anyone else I’ve ever seen.”
‘A brilliant individual’: Mohammed Shami
“I have made my debut in all three formats under Mahi bhai. You can only keep on learning from him, he’s such a brilliant individual.”
‘Not unlucky to play in his era’: Parthiv Patel
“I don’t see myself as unlucky to be playing in the Dhoni era. I started my career before him, and I had the opportunity to perform before him. He came in to the team because I did not have a couple of good series and I was dropped. I know people can say it just to gain sympathies that I was born in the wrong era. But I don’t believe that. Whatever Dhoni has achieved was something very, very special and he achieved because he made sure of the opportunities he received. I don’t feel unlucky at all.”
‘Learning to focus like him’: Sanju Samson
“I have learnt to understand and focus more on my strengths and be more accepting of the failures. I try to contribute to the team’s cause and try to take the team over the line. I am learning to focus and control my emotions while batting like Dhoni.”
‘A big idol’: Jos Buttler
“Dhoni has always been a big idol of mine. There is always chaos going on around him, people wanting a bit of him, the cricket and the noise. It is such a great lesson to just watch him and see first hand how to manage all that if you have to perform at the top level and perform in those crunch moment, that certainly has been one of the massive pluses.”
‘A mentor’: Rishabh Pant
“He has been like a mentor to me, on and off the field. I can approach him freely with any problem I may be facing, and he will never give me the complete solution for it. This is so that I don’t become entirely dependent on him, he gives me hints only that helps me solve the issue myself. He’s also one of my favourite batting partners, though it’s not something that happens too often. If Mahi bhai is at the crease, you know things are sorted. He’s got a plan in his head, and all you need to do is follow it.”
‘A true leader’: Mohit Sharma
“His humility and sense of gratitude is what sets him apart from other players I have played with. In sport, there’s a difference between a captain and a leader – I believe he’s a true leader. When the team wins, you’ll never find him anywhere prominently, but when the team loses, he’s always right in front, taking responsibility – that’s the sign of a leader and why I admire him so much.”
‘A strong leader’: Faf du Plessis
“A great thing that CSK has done over the years, and that’s credit to MS and [Stephen] Fleming, is they have targeted captains – [Brendon] McCullum, myself, [Dwayne] Bravo, obviously MS, [Suresh] Raina’s captained a bit – because they want thinking cricketers. Chennai Super Kings is a great franchise to be a part of. MS has got such strong leadership. He leaves a massive hole when he’s not on the field.”
‘Arguably the greatest captain’: Kevin Pietersen
“Dhoni is arguably the greatest captain the game has ever seen. It will be very difficult, just with the weight of expectation, to go against MS Dhoni because of what everybody expects from him, how he has to live his life and what he has been through captaining India and then captaining the CSK.”
‘My favourite cricketer’: Kedar Jadhav
“When it comes to my favourite cricketer, it has to be Dhoni. When I met Mahi bhai I thought he is India’s captain and he would be very strict. After meeting him, I don’t see any other image when it comes to favourite cricketer. I could have played 8-10 ODIs but Mahi bhai supported me and he had a calming effect on me. When I see him I get confidence and if you get that from your captain, it helps a lot.”
‘The best captain’: Shikhar Dhawan
“I have only played under Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. So, as of now, Dhoni bhai is the best captain for me.”
‘He watches everything closely’: Suresh Raina
“Every move he makes is spot on. He knows how to use different bowlers in different situations...controls everything from behind the stumps. He watches everything closely. Got to spend some time with him in the CSK training camp recently. He was batting so well in the nets, he had the hunger of a youngster. In one session, he batted for three hours at a stretch.”
‘Once-in-a-generation cricketer’: Nasser Hussain
“Once Dhoni is gone, there is no getting him back. There are some legends of the game, appreciate them while they are around, because they are once-in-a-generation cricketers. Don’t push him into retirement too early. Only Dhoni knows his mental state and in the end the selectors select and players turn up when asked to. Is MS Dhoni still good enough to get in the Indian side? It is as simple as that. That should apply for anyone across the board. What I have seen of Dhoni, I still think MS Dhoni has a huge amount to offer for Indian cricket.”
Evolved as a captain: Irfan Pathan
“He was much more calmer in 2013. In 2007 it was the first time [Dhoni was captaining India] and you understand that when you’re given a big responsibility of leading the country, you always get excited about certain things. Obviously, the [team] meetings were always smaller even in 2007 and in 2013 Champions Trophy as well; we still had five-minute meetings.
“One thing that has really changed and that happens with experiences, when young Mahendra Singh Dhoni became a captain in 2007, he used to run from the wicket-keeping end to the bowler in excitement and try to control the bowler as well.
“By 2013, he was letting the bowler control the game rather he controlling them. By the time the 2013 Champions Trophy took place, he had started trusting his slow bowlers; he used to always trust his spinners, and I think by this time [Champions Trophy] he was very clear that he needs to get his spinners into play to win games.”
All about coordination: Tatenda Taibu
“The first time I saw Dhoni, if I’m to be honest — he had come with the India A side — I thought Karthik was more natural than Dhoni. And still in keeping, Karthik is more natural... even in batting he is more natural.
“Now, the way he (Dhoni) keeps, his hands are not always together like you always have the little fingers together... when he catches his hands are always not like that. But he always manages to catch the ball and whip the bails in a flash with a very different technique... a very different and odd technique.”
Finally, Virat Kohli...
“I was always in MS’s [Dhoni] ears, standing next to him, ‘yeh kar sakte ho, woh kar sakte ho’ (can we try these things), what do you think? He would deny a lot of things but he would discuss a lot of things as well, so he got a lot of confidence that I can do this [captaincy] after him.
“I think a large portion of me becoming captain was also to do with him [Dhoni] observing me for a long period of time. It just can’t happen like he goes and selectors say ‘you become captain’.
“The guy who is there, he takes responsibility and says okay, ‘I think this is the next guy and I will tell you how he is going’ and then slowly that transition is formed. He played a big role in that and that trust you have to build over, say six-seven years, it just doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process.”