MS Dhoni is not immune to criticism. Having successfully captained India cricket team over a decade, perhaps it is easier to manage the Chennai Super Kings even during the relatively difficult times. Dhoni may have been enjoying this freedom of franchise cricket more, since he could literally be his own man, regardless of the results. Despite being ridiculed as Dad’s Army in the last two seasons, Dhoni remained stubborn with the same team. Tactics in the current season may be stretching it for a little longer.
We have seen the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Daniel Vettori, Ricky Ponting and Gautam Gambhir relinquishing captaincy mid-way in the IPL season after not being able to perform consistently or successfully as a player. Dhoni the batsman, of course, is no longer the same force since his last international match in 2019 World Cup. However, Dhoni is unlikely to quit the role of captaincy.
In past, he has repeatedly maintained that captaincy was always an “additional responsibility” for him, however, now for this CSK side it seems it’s his main responsibility. “Credit to MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming for sticking with the side. It is a Chennai way to stick with the players more than other teams might even when others feel like making changes. It comes with experience and credit to the management for sticking with the players,” said former South African captain Faf du Plessis after the second win of the season for CSK.
A lesser captain may have rued and cribbed the absence of the most successful batsman like Suresh Raina or a big match-winner like Harbhajan Singh even before a ball was bowled in the tournament. Dhoni’s problem was compounded by another ferocious match-winner Shane Watson’s struggle in the first four matches yet he persisted with him despite calls to drop the burly Australian. “With so much experience and success the franchise's had, they believe in the players. Never any panic stations with CSK,” said Watson after getting Man of the Match award.
Dhoni of course is a human-leader like many other greats with his own set of strengths and weaknesses. Yet, there shouldn’t be much debate on his captaincy style in this IPL. After all, except for Rohit Sharma, none has won more IPL trophies than he has. In fact, he has reached the most number of IPL finals as captain.
He was not as lucky as he has been for the team India compared to IPL since he lost two trophies due to ‘bad luck’ (Rohit Sharma denied him 2017 and 2019 trophy by a margin of 1 run!). In many ways, IPL has somehow also unmasked the myth of Dhoni as a complete captain. “It is time to end the myth of the complete leader: the flawless person at the top who has got it all figured out. In fact, the sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their organizations will be,” says a chapter, “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader”, published in Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership in 2011.
It holds true in the case of the CSK and its success. Dhoni is a great leader, but certainly not a flawless one. From Virender Sehwag (strange decisions and glitches in his captaincy after the Rajasthan Royals match) to Kevin Pietersen (not buying that nonsense of justification behind batting at No. 7) to Ajay Jadeja (no battle is won while fighting from the back) to Harbhajan’s veil attack on his age, Dhoni has been getting it from all the corners.
Not that, he still doesn’t have many admirers. In fact, former India player Sanjay Manjrekar suggested in one of his newspaper columns that Dhoni's role as a cricketer at CSK may take a backseat for captaincy. Writing for Espncricinfo.com former opener Aakash Chopra suggested Dhoni’s idea of leadership isn’t about leading from the front at all. He built his legacy as a captain, at least in franchise cricket, by pushing others ahead of him. Even in his heyday, he would go in only when things started to go pear-shaped.
The man himself typically chooses not to take any credit for his team’s good show. “Fleming doesn't get the kind of recognition he should. The good thing between us is that we decide each and everything between us. It's not like we don't have debates over selections. But it stays between us,” said Dhoni after the second win of the IPL2020.
Doubtless, every skipper needs the support of a whole range of people—from coaches to the players themselves. In his heydays of captaincy, Dhoni may not have required any support from anyone but in the twilight of his IPL career, he may have been going through what others have experienced in past.
In his widely acclaimed book The Art of Captaincy, former England captain Mike Brearly wrote on what captains go through during moment of doubts. “There were stages in my career when I despaired of motivating myself, let alone others: when all I wanted to do was crawl into anonymity, rather than bounce back.” It is impossible to imagine what someone like Dhoni has to go through by captaining IPL season after season apart from the tough task of wicketkeeping and batting.
Yet, Dhoni should now decide if he wants to overextend the responsibility of IPL captaincy. “I know it’s been in the back of his mind for some time, I mean all of us have to step aside at some point of time. It’s just the matter of when… when to step aside and hand it over to whether it’s a Raina or someone younger,” Dwayne Bravo had told a TV channel (ABP News) about Dhoni’s plans for his successor in CSK before the IPL 2020.
CSK has been the only team to make it to play-off in all editions but this time there is a serious debate on if they can continue the great tradition. Dhoni’s legacy is assured regardless of the final result of his campaign in this IPL
Perhaps an appropriate advice also comes from the same Harvard Business Review article: “It’s time to put that myth to rest, not only for the sake of frustrated leaders but also for the health of organizations. Even the most talented leaders require the input and leadership of others, constructively solicited and creatively applied. It’s time to celebrate the incomplete—that is, the human-leader.”