Secret of Dhoni’s success: Simplicity and clarity
As one of our heroes, Rahul Dravid, heads towards high office in Indian cricket, we highlight this superb piece from Sandeep Dwiwedi of the Indian Express who pays fulsome tribute to one of the smartest cricketers to have played for India, MS Dhoni. Beyond paying tribute to Dhoni, this article highlights – without intending to do so – that the same old simple principles that succeed in T20 cricket also work in corporate management and in investing.
The piece begins by highlighting how Dhoni likes to keep messaging short & simple: “Paddy Upton in his book ‘Barefeet Coach’ talks about his eye-opening short interaction with Mahendra Singh Dhoni very early in his stint as India’s mental conditioning coach. After one longish meeting, where the mind guru seemed to be making a habit of addressing the boys, Dhoni put an arm around his shoulder and said: “Upton, I don’t feel that you always have to say something.” It was a subtle message, the South African coach writes, to keep things simple. From that moment to his last day in office, when India won the 2011 World Cup, Upton had a better idea about his word limit, and the India skipper.”
Sandeep Dwiwedi then delves into why CSK – under Dhoni’s captaincy – has consistently managed to do well in the IPL, the world’s most competitive T20 tournament. Firstly, Dhoni does not care about the latest greatest trends & fashions in T20 strategy: “CSK’s consistency in a notoriously unpredictable format that is unforgiving of even a minor slip-up is a tribute to a leader whose greatness lies in the simplicity of his cricketing engagement. Dhoni follows a set pattern, banks on his regulars, along with long-time coach Stephen Fleming. The two aren’t known to be waylaid by seasonal trends and other excesses on the T20 playlist… Case in point is the text-book bowling sequence which Dhoni has followed for years now. It has a very predictable pattern. Take this season. For the first six overs, it’s the Aussie quick Josh Hazelwood with pacers slower than him. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja gets the ball after the first power play. Just around the half-way mark, the team’s fulcrum, the clever trundler Dwayne Bravo gets in the mix. He has spinners for company in the middle overs and pacers at the death. Pacers-spinners-pacers, this wheel was invented for the Tests and later fitted to ODIs. Dhoni doesn’t show the restlessness to reinvent it for T20 cricket.”
Secondly, Dhoni backs old-school cricketers with high pedigree rather than modern muscle-bound hitting machines that other franchises pay megabucks for: “Most CSK regulars are old-school cricketers. The now iconic canary yellow jersey is rarely seen on those globetrotting T20 specialists – the six-hitting muscular mercenaries or the mystery spinners who treat the cricket ball as a carrom striker. Those who delivered for him in the final – Faf du Plessis, Hazelwood, Jadeja and Moeen Ali – have proven Test pedigree. Others who played bit parts – Rayudu, Uthappa, Thakur, Chahar – have a long and towering presence in first-class cricket.”
Thirdly – and this seems to be a key element of the CSK secret sauce – is loyalty: the franchise backs its long serving stalwarts and the stalwarts return the favour: “CSK, the only IPL franchise with a rich cricketing legacy, thankfully hasn’t moved with the times. The original owner and BCCI influential office-bearer N Srinivasan has run multiple teams in Chennai’s local leagues, seen intense club rivalry, scooped big-ticket transfers and dealt with players of every hue. He didn’t whistle podu into cricket yesterday. Srinivasan has been around to know that supporting cricket needs a philanthropist’s mindset; it’s not an investment that gives regular annual dividends.
Not to be seen as a virtue, but at CSK the players and owners have stuck to each other through thick and thin. At the peak of the spot-fixing controversy, when Srinivasan’s son-in-law faced allegations of betting from the dugout, CSK closed ranks, declared an omerta. No whistle-blower, no mutiny, no exodus. Even when his meticulously-crafted reputation was at stake, Dhoni remained loyal to his franchise. It was never in doubt that he would return to his home, the Chepauk Stadium, once CSK served its two-year ban. The franchise, in turn, reciprocated.
Last year when CSK veteran Suresh Raina, one fine night before the start of the bubbled IPL, flew back home; the team lost a vital cog. CSK lost balance and collapsed. It proved to be their worst season. Dhoni looked over the hill, the squad looked jaded. Any other franchise would have reacted. There would have been finger pointing, gas-lighting, planted stories about the captain losing the confidence of the team and owners.
In contrast, at Chennai there was no acrimony, no witch-hunt, not even a post-mortem. Raina was welcomed back. What’s one season between old-associates who have guarded each other’s backs for over a decade.”