Dhoni ‘was a captain I enjoyed playing under’, says Rahul Dravid

"He never took a backward step, and led more by example than by rhetoric or by words"

“He never took a backward step, and led more by example than by rhetoric or by words”

Image courtesy of: The Indian Express

Legendary India batsman Rahul Dravid has announced that he enjoyed playing under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Dhoni rocked the cricketing world to its core by announcing his retirement from Test cricket following the third Test against Australia, which ended as a draw.

“He was a captain I enjoyed playing under,” Dravid told ESPNcricinfo. “One of the things I liked about MS was, what you saw was what you got. Very uncomplicated, always led by example. One of the things I really liked about playing under MS was that he never asked you to do anything that he himself didn’t do.

“The reality was he was having to transition a senior group of players and build a younger group who were coming through. In a sense he was not the most communicative of captains, but he tried to earn your respect by walking the talk. He never took a backward step, and led more by example than by rhetoric or by words. More by actions.”

Dravid also lauded Dhoni for going on to become India’s most successful Test captain.

“For someone to come from a small town like Ranchi, to go on and captain India and play 90 Test matches, to do it the way he has, I think he brought a lot of dignity to the job of captaincy,” Dravid said. “He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he was his own cup of tea and he led with a lot of success and that can never be taken away from him.

“And he’s been an inspiration. If there are kids in small towns today dreaming and aspiring for great things, not only in cricket but in various fields, then MS Dhoni has a lot to do with it.”

However, Dravid admitted that he was surprised by the timing of Dhoni’s decision to retire, especially since there is still one more Test to be played in the ongoing series against Australia.

“I guess it was unexpected that he would do it in the middle of the series,” Dravid said. “I expected him to review it at the end of the series, without India playing Test cricket for the next seven or eight months.

“Knowing MS, if the series was alive, I don’t think he would have taken the decision in the middle of the series, but having seen that the series was already gone, maybe he felt that if he was going to go, then maybe this was the time to do it, and to give Virat Kohli a Test match in Australia to captain, Wriddhiman Saha another opportunity in a Test match, and to start the process of taking India’s Test team forward.

“If you look at it overall, there was no doubt he was India’s most successful Test captain. The numbers don’t lie. There’s no doubt that he didn’t have the best of times, especially over the last four years, in overseas conditions. Maybe it’s also a reflection of the fact that the team was in transition, it was changing times, especially in the bowling department. It’s not easy to captain a team when you don’t have the resources to be able to take 20 wickets.”

Dhoni has been heavily criticised as of late for being a very defensive captain. But, Dravid dismissed those remarks and revealed that Dhoni was always looking to go on the offensive when playing in India.

“He was never defensive when captaining in India,” Dravid said. “When he had spinners, he was always attacking, on turning tracks, he was willing to force the game. It’s just overseas, and over the last three or four years, that I just think he maybe felt he didn’t have the bowling resources to be able to take 20 wickets, and he found himself, at many stages, always behind the four-ball.

“It’s hard to attack for the sake of attacking when your runs are leaking at four, four-and-a-half an over, when your batsmen – as it happened on the two tours I played at the end of my career in England and Australia – are struggling as well. We just didn’t put enough runs on the board for a captain to be aggressive and attacking enough.

“Yes, he would be a bit disappointed that he could not maybe transition the team as well as he would have liked overseas over the last four years, and maybe he felt it was the right time for someone like Virat Kohli to take that forward and possibly he felt he’d taken Indian cricket as far as he possibly could as a Test captain.”

Dravid was also quick to dismiss rumours about Dhoni giving more priority to ODI and Twenty20 cricket instead of Test cricket.

“You cannot play 90 Test matches by not embracing Test cricket and not wanting to work hard at it and make a career out of it,” Dravid said. “It’s another matter that his one-day record and his T20 record are much better than his Test record, and his achievements in one-day cricket and T20 cricket are phenomenal.

“That’s not to say he did not have a good record as a Test cricketer as well. Sure, if you judge him by the standards of an Adam Gilchrist, then yes, maybe his Test record wasn’t that good, but purely if you judge him by the standards of Indian wicketkeeper-batsmen and forget everything else – playing lower down the order, playing 90 Test matches, most dismissals for India, most runs as a wicketkeeper-batsman for India, most centuries – it’s a phenomenal record as a Test cricketer and something he can be very proud of.”

While Dravid conceded that Dhoni was not the most technically-correct player when it came to batting, he noted that he still cannot get over how good the 33-year-old’s hand-eye coordination was.

“I think he had incredible hand-eye coordination, incredible power, and an ability to absorb pressure,” Dravid said. “These are his great qualities. Technique wasn’t one of his great strengths, so if you consider that, to average 38 in Test cricket I think is terrific, because he really made it work.”

Dravid now expects Dhoni to have a longer limited overs career since he no longer has to deal with the hardships of Test cricket.

“I think it will actually revitalize him,” he said. “He’s still 33-34, so I think he could easily carry on. He’s playing well, he’s fantastic in that format, he’s one of the best finishers in the world. I don’t really see it being an issue in the next couple of years.”

While Dravid agrees that Virat Kohli is the right candidate to take over as Test captain, he noted that the 26-year-old has to “learn to relax” since his emotions can get the better of him at times.

“One of the good things about Virat, and you see that already in his short career so far, even as a batsman, is that he’s willing to learn, willing to grow,” Dravid said. “I think he’ll learn from his experiences. Not everything has gone right for him, and he’ll learn in time what is the right way that will help him succeed – not only help him succeed, but he’ll now have to think very carefully what will help everyone around him succeed.

“One particular way might work for him, maybe an aggressive, in-your-face attitude might work for him, but I think he’ll quickly have to realise that there might be other people in the team who might find that difficult to match up to, and might actually want a different way to succeed. There’s no right or wrong way. It’s just different ways that people find success, and I think he will learn in time that he will have to create an environment that allows different people to succeed and allows them to express their personalities on the cricket field.

“One thing I will say is Virat is willing to learn, he asks questions, he’s thinking all the time. He’s just got to learn to relax, and [understand] that he cannot control everything as captain. One of the things he’s got to be careful about is not take things too personally, take every result, win or loss, as something very personal. There’s only so much you can control as captain, and I think recognising that quickly is very important.”

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