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THE HELICOPTER MAN

By Sanjay Jha

( As the world goes bubble-headed over MSD, the unassuming man from Jharkhand moves ahead, seemingly unaware of the brouhaha around him ).

He has that peculiar benignant  smile of an endearing  country-bumpkin. And an imperturbable countenance of someone who personifies congenital honesty. Many sarcastically sniggered when he said that he is grabbed often by exuberant fans in “ red light areas” in Chennai at a post-match conference during last year’s IPL tournament  ; what he meant was the traffic signal. That innate yokel-like earthy luminosity is trademark Mahendra Singh Dhoni,  India’s cricket captain. Sachin Tendulkar’s best ever leader. Corporate India’s latest CEO-inspiration. The former long-haired piece of beefy incongruity who once worked as a neophyte ticket-collector at the Kharagpur station in South Eastern Railways is the country’s current lodestar and with incontrovertible reason.

The unalloyed concentration was palpable in those still eyes of the Indian skipper as he almost contumaciously lifted the hapless Sri Lankan bowler Kulasekara , trying valiantly to go through a perfunctory exercise of providing the match its finishing moments. It turned out to be the bowler’s last great act of redemption. The fairly muddied white ball soared sky-high like a mini-UFO into a balmy summer night in Mumbai , as several hundred million eyeballs traced its loop-like trajectory as it descended into buoyant crowds at the MCA Pavilion, Wankhede Stadium on April 2nd 2011. 28 years of excruciating waiting, interspersed with several agonizing interludes was at last over. India, carrying the gargantuan onus of tournament-favorites from the crystal-ball gazers , cricket pundits and the brazenly nationalistic sort alike , had actually delivered. We are the world, sang the joyous multitudes. Kapil Dev’s daring Devils had a worthy successor, the Captain’s Champs, all!

As the country erupted into expected unfettered euphoria , the Jharkhand boy , in a rare exhibition of footloose emotion, let his tear ducts flow. Yuvraj Singh , his dependable deputy feeling resurrected himself from a bottomless precipice was lachrymose as well. Harbhajan Singh, a soft heart behind that recalcitrant façade broke down too. Next to me, an elderly man stood choked, paralyzed with a stroke of happiness. Soon Sachin Tendulkar joined them, running excitedly like a young kid on being told that he has just got his new bicycle. The Men in Blue were like a  bunch of adventurous  trekkers who having pursued a treacherous trail on high altitude were now returning home after scaling dizzying heights.

Not long before, Dhoni had been severely castigated for an almost bizarre batting collapse at Nagpur in a league match against South Africa and the devastating aftermath of a shock loss. 9 wickets for 29 runs was literally falling like nine pins, that had even the bookies flabbergasted. . Dhoni’s response to that was both laconic and acerbic: play for your country and not for the gallery . His choice of the toothy Ashish Nehra as the last-over bowler was considered  tactless. No one asked: is there any foolproof strategy in sports? About stock-markets? About tomorrow?  About life?  Did anyone have a prescience of the  Japanese tsunami despite sophisticated forecasting technology? Couldn’t Harbhajan Singh have been clobbered mercilessly for four sixes despite his intriguing  doosra?

Dhoni has been remarkably candid; he is aware of the fickle, almost tempestuous  engagement that people have with India’s cricketing success. And failures. His sardonic demonstration of that came in the T 20 World Cup in England when he paraded the entire Indian team in front of a stunned media to showcase the Indian team’ s unity allegedly splintered down the middle. It was perhaps the most calculated statement laced with caustic wit. His team clearly stood by him and his unconventional methods. .

Until Dhoni’s remarkable calisthenics with triumphs happened, Jharkhand was more famous for tribal exploitation, a maligned Chief Minister accused of murder charges and horse-trading, and another who ran a mafia empire across the African continent with looted funds from the state exchequer. He has also blossomed Indian cricket amidst the hugely publicized sleazy scams involving the highest officials in India’s cricket administration. MSD possesses sangfroid that would embarrass inveterate practitioners of meditation.

At a young age, he has handled an Indian team which  represents India’s distinctive diversity, it’s multi-cultural hue and religious ethnicity, perhaps explaining cricket’s  mesmerizing hold in the public imagination. The famous Pathan brothers hail from Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. Once the

senior versus juniors rift  had threatened to rupture dressing room camaraderie. Today, the young Turks happily coexist with master veterans. Dhoni has effortlessly destroyed internecine politics.

From  his several attributes the most singular management lesson that emerges is that Dhoni has no fear of failure. Perhaps unwittingly, he is a follower of FDR’s classic aphorism; the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Warren Buffett , amongst the world’s most sagacious, visionary capitalists with incisive life experiences recently said that the world’s best talent comes from the IIT’s of India. There is one in Kharagpur. Perhaps it is time for them to invite the city’s erstwhile ticket-collector on the platform to explain the magic behind that helicopter shot.

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