Monday 1 August 2011

MS Dhoni: Alpha Male

When the golfer Bobby Jones was congratulated for calling a foul on himself in a tournament long ago, he replied, 'you might as well praise me for not robbing a bank'. The Corinthian Casuals football team would instruct their goalkeeper to vacate the six yard box if they conceded a penalty on the grounds that the other side had already been denied a goal by their foul. Mark Taylor declared on himself when he was level with Bradman's then-record Australian score of 334.

Sportsmanship in sport has always been coded by the times in which it happens. Jones admitted that he never played what he called 'friendly golf' even when he went out with his friends. Football's professional foul occupies a respectful category of its own. Matthew Hayden remained qualm-less as he muscled past Taylor and the Don against the mighty Zimbabwe.

The point being that acceptability is a movable feast, the product of complex interpretations that change with the years. Bodyline almost started a war; the West Indies quicks who did the same thing are the subject of awe and rose-tinted documentaries. WG regarded the umpire's decision as optional. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga risked their lives to wear black armbands. Things are equivocal.

MS Dhoni's act was about more than just sportsmanship, although it was an act of sportsmanship and should be remembered as one. Yet it was also an act of leadership, and one that explained a lot about why India are successful. It was the decision of an alpha-male with a sense of perspective.

It was noticeable, during the Sky coverage, that one of the commentators most convinced that Bell should be dismissed was Nasser Hussain. His England side would have done so, because they were not a great team and he was trying to install in them a notion that no-one should give an inch on the field. Shane Warne, a player far more accustomed to winning and the winner's mentality, said that he would have recalled Bell.

Ultimately, it's a decision based on confidence. Dhoni is confident in himself and his team. If he allowed himself to be consumed by the pressure of captaining India, he would implode. The same quality that allowed him to saunter to the crease in the World Cup final and win the game was the one that allowed him to withdraw his appeal. The truly secure man knows that his time will come again; he's not obsessed with small-picture detail.

England would do well not to get ahead of themselves. India have been asked to win a World Cup, stage the IPL, achieve number one status in Test cricket, play out a series of shimmering brilliance in South Africa, appear in front of empty stadiums in West Indies and then take on England with a main bowler and talismanic batsman missing.

Andrew Strauss said that he 'liked to think' he'd do the same as Dhoni. It will be a signal of his strength if he does.


diogenes said...

I think your perspective is a wise one - not to withdraw the appeal would have been the mark of a captain who thought himself unable to win the game in any other way. The circumstances of this "dismissal" were so bizarre - one umpire seemed to have called "time" and was handing back sweaters - that it would have been a travesty to let it stand. What is the role of the referee in situations like this?

MrNarci said...

As the earlier commenter has said yours is a wise perspective. Dhoni has come in for a lot of flak, for his batting and keeping, and for his captaincy in the last two tests. But as you rightly pointed out all his achievements with a team that doesn't look as invincible as Ponting's Aussies, or the Windies of the seventies. And we still haven't lost a test series with him at the helm. I don't think Dhoni will let England be his first.

Tim Newman said...

Mark Taylor declared on himself when he was level with Bradman's then-record Australian score of 334.

I thought that was a bit pathetic, TBH. Great though The Don was, the Australians need to let him go and I can't imagine for one minute the man himself would consider it respectful to have a contemporary declare on 334 to preserve his own record.

I was talking to some Aussies in a bar last night about the inability of Australians to accept past greatness in sportsmen and move on, instead prefering to keep them relevant and ever-present. They do it with Wally Lewis in the NRL, wheeling him out for every major game and comparing any five-eighth with any promise to him way sooner than is appropriate. AFL players are subject to the same daft comparisons against great players long-gone, and we only need to look at Stevie Smith's selection to see the desperation with which Australia seek the next Shane Warne, another past great who is wheeled out after every game and whose name is mentioned every second over by the commentators.

Contrast this with, say Rugby Union. Do any of the Australian players deliberately limit themselves to avoid surpassing John Eales of George Gregan? Of course not. For whatever reason, some sports look forward, others cling to the past.

Tim Newman said...

If he allowed himself to be consumed by the pressure of captaining India, he would implode.

Cough! Ricky Ponting! Cough!

Ajesh Nag said...

As beautiful as the angle of being 'sporting' and the 'unbreakable spirit of cricket' sounds, I honestly think something was at the back of the minds of all the Indian players that day.

It hasn't been that long ago since the bitter and animosity spewed series against Australia - the worst spinoff of that series being that the vitriol spilled outside the boundary line.

The media of the two countries didn't get along and the Indians were booed wherever they went. Losing only bothers sportsmen so much, but hostile receptions for the next month or so, plus a lifetime of negative recollection of the incident would have been the tipping point.

Dean @ Cricket Betting Blog said...

I'd imagine Paul Collingwood will regret the Grant Elliott incident for the rest of his days.

I believe Dhoni would have regretted this if he hadn't changed his mind.

Ajesh touched on this point, a negative reaction would have followed this series around to it's conclusion. In a similar way to the Aussie V India one he mentioned and also last years England V Pakistan series.

And as for the reactions of Atherton, Hussain and Shastri, who all said they wouldn't have recalled Bell.

It's too easy for them to make these 'big' calls when they are safely tucked away in their commentary boxes. There is an 'I would have done this' character everywhere in life, and from experience most of them talk out of their arses.

Mark said...

The antithesis of Mark Taylor is ex Kent batsman, Trevor Ward.

Matt Walker was batting for Kent at Canterbury in a Championship match and was on something like 265 not out at tea. The 'venerable' EW Swanton burst into the Kent dressing room and ordered Ward to declare the innings closed because Walker was about to go past Frank Wooley's record score for Kent.

Ward (allegedly) told Swanton to 'fuck off you pompous old twat'

Walker batted on and broke the record.

Vaibhav Sharma said...

The decision to recall was correct. in any case bell could add only 19 runs and india did not need such type of bizarre dismissals to beat england.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the time, at school, when I was running back to the keeper's end to make two, when the keeper (standing between me and the stumps) broke the wicket with a flourish of red gloves. I started walking back to the pavilion. At which point the umpire shouted: "Come back, you're not out, because he didn't have the ball". By the time I had turned round to make my ground, the ball had arrived, and the same umpire duly gave me out.

To this day (over 40 years later) I am not sure whether the umpire's first intervention should have rendered the ball dead. What I do know, is that the original act of breaking the stumps, was definitely not cricket. Likewise Dhoni tossing the ball to Mukhund to break the stumps and run out Bell.

The issue about whether it was sporting to retract the appeal is secondary.

Mark said...

A keeper I knew had the trick of feinting to catch an incoming throw with a shout of 'well in' when a batsman was sauntering towards him for an apparently easy single.

Often the batsman would hurriedly quicken his pace, only to turn round and find the ball stil with the fielder.

On one occasion the batsman actually pulled a hamstring with the sudden movement and had to retire hurt!

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oh I have to say that I have to respect and admire so much Bobby Jones for having done that, not every golfer or person would have done that, it takes guts and ethics

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