“Rising from humble beginnings in a small town, you burst onto the national scene, made a name for yourself and most importantly, made India proud,” PM Modi wrote in an emotional letter to the most loved cricketer of Indian cricket history, i.e. Mahendra Singh Dhoni
What happens when once in the lifetime global leader writes a letter to the most successful sporting leader? What do the leader who has caught the imagination of the entire nation writes to phenomena in the field of sports? India’s most successful cricket captain ever Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced his formal retirement from the international cricket when the whole country was celebrating its 73rd years of Independence. The man who immortalised the number seven jersey posted on Instagram, “Thanks a lot for your love and support throughout. From 1929 hours, consider me as retired”. While the message was sinking in, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote a letter to MS Dhoni, which epitomises in a real sense what are the hallmarks of the true leaders of New India.
The excerpts of the letter from PM Modi read, “But, the name Mahendra Singh Dhoni will not be remembered merely for his career statistics or specific match-winning roles. Looking at you as just a sportsperson would be injustice. The correct way to assess your impact is as a phenomenon!
Rising from humble beginnings in a small town, you burst onto the national scene, made a name for yourself and most importantly made India proud. Your rise and conduct thereafter gives strength and inspiration to crores of youngsters who like you have not been to cushy schools or colleges, neither do they belong to illustrious families but they have the talent to distinguish themselves at the highest levels.
You have been one of the important illustrations of the spirit of New India, where family name does not make young people’s destiny but they make their own names and their own destinies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi letter to MS Dhoni
Where we come from does not matter as long as we know where we are headed — this is the spirit that you have exuded and inspired many youngsters with.
Many of your memorable on-field moments exemplify a particular generation of Indians. This generation of Indians does not hesitate to take risks and back each other’s abilities in even the toughest situations — seen in the way you took risks many a time in backing little known youngsters to deliver in high pressure situations. The 2007 T-20 World Cup Finals is a perfect example of this spirit.
This generation of Indians does not lose their nerve in decisive situations; we saw that in many of your innings and games.
Our youth does not lose heart in the face of adversity and, most importantly, are fearless, just like the team you led.
No matter what hairstyle you sported, your calm head remained the same in victory or defeat, which is a very important lesson for every youth”.
The letter from the Prime Minister, captures the true spirit of the meaning of the phenomenon called Mahendra Singh Dhoni? Before we decode the phenomenon further, it will be pertinent to bring forth an interesting anecdote from the series when MS Dhoni-led team India for the first time in 2007 T-20 World Cup. As one amongst the select few journalists covering the inaugural T-20 World Cup in South Africa, we were assured that MS Dhoni will give us a detailed one on one interview. While the tournament progressed, the chances of his interview started looking much more difficult. In fact, in some of the press conferences, MS Dhoni even did not even turn up and rather let some of his other teammates do the talking.
Amid this backdrop, one of the seasoned print journalist referring to a famous Indian captain before him once informally told him-This is a very famously told him. This is a very brutal world. You need strong backings. You need to keep the press in good humour. You need to cultivate a special bonding with some select journalist who should back you to the hilt’. MS Dhoni politely but firmly told him, ‘Dada dekho (Meaning big brother listen), If we play well and our team is able to deliver, media will have to acknowledge our performance. And, my team and I fail, even if you and the media want to, you will not be able to back me for long. So, I should focus on my job and you should on yours’. Saying this, holding his kit, he headed for the practice session. This was MS Dhoni for you, in his first tournament as the captain of the Indian cricket team. The rest is history. Further in his career, except on the rarest occasions, he hardly gave any personal interviews. Instead, he let his bat and his leadership-do the talking part.
How will the phenomenon of MS Dhoni be remembered as? What will be his legacy as the leader of New Bharat Industrialist Anand Mahindra hit the nail on the head when in one of his tweet he says, “Much has been said about #Dhoni brought to the game. I’m no expert on cricket & I remember I 1st noticed him when my mother pointed him out on TV intrigued by his hairstyle’. Similar was the case with almost the entire country. Jharkhand hardly existed in the cricket map of the country. Before him, there were not even cricketers who could be counted in the fingertips who played for the state or undivided Bihar. So, there were not any former cricketers or an established cricket ecosystem to back his talent when Dhoni started. Mahi was from lower-middle-class family, and if he had not forced his way into the Indian dressing room for a year or even six more months, he would have been working as the ticket collector in the Kharagpur or any other adjoining railway station. So, unlike many other cricketers before him, his entry to the Indian cricket was not anticipated at all. So, when he made his debut, he was noticed more because of his hairstyle than his cricketing talent.
Anand Mahindra then goes on to list three things that set Dhoni apart. “He reminded us that to make an impact: a) Be authentic b) Be bold/take risk c) Stand out,’ he adds. In fact, all these three qualities in MS Dhoni are co-related and are a further extension of each other.
In cricket, the entrenched order was restricted to a few traditional centres and the ecosystem around those centres. Amid this backdrop, when someone like MS Dhoni comes from outside the influence zone of the entrenched system, they come up as disruptive force and are resisted by the entrenched order. So, even when MS Dhoni was making an impact as the batsman and wicketkeeper, his technique was consistently questioned. He will not survive long in international cricket was the standard phrase. Even when Dhoni started making his mark as the leader, his success was taken as a fluke and sheer stroke of luck
There is an established and entrenched order in every walk of life when we talk of India till some years back. In politics, the entrenched order was restricted to the few families at the centre and in the states. In media, the entrenched order was restricted to the Lutyens media and those who were loyal to its practices and rules of the game as enunciated by them. In Bollywood, the entrenched order is restricted to a few families and the cartel around them. In cricket, the entrenched order was restricted to a few traditional centres and the ecosystem around those centres. Amid this backdrop, when someone like MS Dhoni comes from outside the influence zone of the entrenched system, they come up as disruptive force and are resisted by the entrenched order. So, even when MS Dhoni was making an impact as the batsman and wicketkeeper, his technique was consistently questioned. He will not survive long in international cricket was the standard phrase. Even when Dhoni started making his mark as the leader, his success was taken as a fluke and sheer stroke of luck. In this scenario, there are two ways to deal as a leader. Either you follow the entrenched order and act as per their discourse and eventually be subsumed and wiped out by the entrenched order. Or be your authentic self and follow your gut instincts. MS Dhoni followed the latter course.
Once you decide to be your authentic self to make your mark and establish yourself, you need to be bold and willing to take the risk. Either be reactive or wait for the failure to catch up with you or be proactive and change the discourse. So, for many, giving unknown Joginder Sharma to bowl the last over of the all-important World Cup T-20 final may be a huge risk to take, but for the leader like Dhoni, it is a further extension of this mindset. An authentic leader in him was willing to keep his eyes and ears open to all the possible options and not work as per the fixed mindset. This has been visible so many times in his career- while he was batting in the crunch over or leading his side in the decisive stage of the game or the tournament. Naturally, when he got the result of taking risks, he went for more such bold moves in his tenure. Not every such bold measure was successful, but they were part of the process. Gradually, this became the pattern, and eventually, he stood out as the leader- much more successful from his predecessors.
What is the moral of the MS Dhoni story? The ‘New India’ is emerging. The impact of this India is getting visible in politics, in industry, in entrepreneurship, in cinema, in cricket and other sports and the other walks of life. They are disruptive as they are shaking the edifice of the entrenched order. The stakeholders of the New Bharat are authentic, are willing to be bold and take risks and thus all set to stand out. So, they are unstoppable. Before MS Dhoni, another towering leader, who was also accomplished in sports, emerged from Jharkhand. Jaipal Singh Munda, the captain of the Indian hockey team which clinched gold in the 1928 Olympics was the member of our constituent assembly as well. In one of his famous speeches, he said, ‘As an Adibasi, I am expected to understand the legal intricacies of the Resolution. But my common sense tells me that every one of us should march in that road to freedom and fight together. Sir, if there is any group of people which has been shabbily treated, it is my group of people. And, yet I take you all at your word that now we are going to start the new chapter of independent India where there is equality of opportunity, where no one is neglected’. Almost, 73 years after the famous speech, the deprived forces are finally coming to the centre stage in the New India.
(The writer is Channel Advisor, DD-Sports)