Is he one of those blessed ones who are born with a winning touch? Or is he just another lucky bloke for whom everything miraculously falls into place?
Ask Mahendra Singh Dhoni and he will, probably, just flash a smile in your direction. Deep in his heart, though, he knows how much work has gone into his nascent success and how many sacrifices he has already made.
The tag, however, surfaced last September, when the Twenty20 captaincy unexpectedly landed in his lap. But then, the rare honour had nothing to do with his luck; it had more to do with the selectors’ foresight and willingness to take a risk.
They were probably emboldened as the Indian team was not expected to do well in the World Cup in South Africa: it had no track record in the abridged format and virtually no Twenty20 specialists either. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Zaheer too pulled out as they didn’t see any hope for the team.
Dhoni saw all this as providence, as his chance to raise the flag for the lesser cousins of Indian cricket. He marshalled his resources ingeniously, kept everybody’s spirits high with his “we-don’t-give-a-damn-about-anything” attitude and carried his young gladiators forward.
He showed nerves of gold at critical times; he transformed potential into performance across the ranks; more amazingly, he chose not to turn to the tried and tested even when everything was at stake. It was captaincy at its raw best.
In the final, with Misbah-ul Haq just one step away from becoming our greatest villain yet again, he tossed the ball to Joginder Sharma.
Even the most reckless gambler, who normally doesn’t think twice before putting everything on line, would have balked at that stage.
He simply smiled and asked Joginder to go for it. As Misbah played another comical shot, the team converged into his arms from all corners. There were no ugly victorious gestures from Dhoni, no wild celebrations. Just pure grace.
A few months later, just after India unleashed a tsunami in Australia during the Test series, Dhoni was left holding the washed out pieces. Worse, he chose to look beyond the “seniors”, who had been the cornerstone of the team’s amazing performance till then, for the One-dayers.
Australia were already on song and it seemed like Dhoni’s comeuppance had come. He had already struggled for runs and his chosen ones were not delivering either. But almost incredibly, the Indian team found its feet and voice again and actually won the title in a canter. It was India’s first victory in a Tri-series Down Under.
Dhoni had to step into the captain’s shoes again when Anil Kumble pulled out of the third Test in Ahmedabad.
With South Africa in a rampaging mood, and without Sachin Tendulkar, nobody gave him a chance.
But as soon as the match commenced, it became apparent that the designer track that they had been waiting for was hidden here.
South Africa managed to get off to a good start but India are past masters on such pitches. They simply bamboozled them and won inside three days. Dhoni even joined a very exclusive band of captains who had won a Test on debut.
As the caravan moves into the IPL mould, Dhoni faces his toughest challenge. As captain of Chennai, he will have to take on Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Dravid, Sehwag and Yuvraj (apart from Warne). He has grown up idolizing almost all of them; can he outwit and outplay them now?