MSD magic: admired, loved and respected

Hindustan Times

Hindustan Times

Author 2019-10-02 10:34:35

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That MS Dhoni is the most admired Indian after the Prime Minister, confirms the keeper has caught the attention of the country. He connects with fans, inspires cricketers and is an ambassador of hope and possibility for youngsters dreaming big.

MSD is a limited edition celebrity whose aura is sustained by maintaining distance and rationing information. MSD lives behind carefully placed curtains and filters that restrict access, a fact VVS Laxman will confirm. He doesn’t talk much, his achievements speak; he stays in the background, yet stands out. He shuns publicity, but the media chases him. Instead of exposing himself to an information hungry world, MSD is intensely private. MSD is grounded—a cricketer without any spin! MSD’s magic rests on defying the normal. When every other celebrity goes ballistic on social media, MSD is coolly absent, as if to express disgust about this viral infection.

But India admires Dhoni for reasons other than being different. As captain he was statesmanlike, dignified, a general in battle with the composure of a monk, a reassuring presence in extreme stress. Celebration on reaching a landmark is not violent gestures or abusive screams, just an old- world raising of the bat.

However, MSD is not shy of making a loud statement. Love for the Army is worn on the sleeve and, occasionally, on his keeping gloves. In the Rashtrapati Bhavan to receive the Padmashri, Lt Col Dhoni marched like a soldier. After the World Cup, he disappeared to train in Kashmir keeping selectors in suspense about his availability. This, when his photos—playing golf in the US and billiards in Ranchi—circulated in the media.

Dhoni is admired, loved and respected like Kapil paaji and Sachin Tendulkar. Kapil Dev was cricket’s first superstar, respected by colleagues and adored by fans. Paaji was bankable box office, more Salman than Amir Khan, popular with the masses.

SRT too ticked all boxes, the Sachiiiiin chant is evidence of mass appeal and the Bharat Ratna confirmation of his special status. SRT is certainly cricket royalty of the bluest kind. Among cricketers since 2000, it’s difficult to name anyone who is more loved, admired and respected.

While admiration reflects popular choice, respect is more complex, especially in the cricket context. Judged by this yardstick, from the current lot of Indian players, Virat is a clear leader. His record is such there is no dispute about his standing. Endorsement from Viv Richards confirms Virat is a modern day master.

Respect in the dressing room isn’t a matter of the score book alone. Players judge each other, they know exactly who sits where on the greatness index. A Test hundred is broken down in terms of quality of bowling, match situation, nature of pitch. Bowling figures are subjected to strict scrutiny. Ultimately, respect is awarded only to players who perform consistently against quality sides, both home and away.

That is why in the all time Hall of Respect, SMG has a prominent place. Small in size but big on stature, SMG blunted fierce pace to make runs that brought respect to Indian cricket. Jimmy Amarnath is special because he stood up to pace overseas in an era that did not have helmets, decent protection or laws restricting short bowling. Vishwanath’s record may not be spectacular but players valued his exploits whenever the going got tough.

Dravid has a fantastic overall record, his achievements in Australia and England proof of exceptional ability and pure class.

Sehwag was a match-winner. Anil Kumble is at the top of the respect ratings, acknowledgement that he was one of the greatest spinners ever.

But if a poll is held among cricketers to pick the most respected current player, MSD would be a clear favourite.

(The writer is a sports administrator. Views are personal)

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