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Brave New India

21 January 2011.

Dhoni’s side has acquired the ability to will itself to victory, writes Peter Roebuck

India’s fighting spirit bodes well for its prospects in the coming World Cup. Twice Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team has managed to scrape across the line in South Africa and on each occasion the players have celebrated exuberantly. Both the victories and the reactions offer an insight into the attitude of New India and its potent cricket team.

Any side with a modicum of talent can succeed on those days when everything goes according to plan. Any captain looks astute whose leading batsmen produce blistering innings, whose bowlers land the ball on a one rupee coin and whose fieldsmen catch passing thoughts.

On such days the captain fancies himself as Abraham Lincoln reincarnate.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni

M S Dhoni keeping wickets on Day 2 of the Second Test of the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2010 – 11.
Photo © / pulkitsinha.

No one doubts that India has the power to crush opponents. On its day the side is well nigh unstoppable. A cursory look at the batting order confirms that it packs a punch. But talent alone is never enough.

No team can play at its peak every time. Sooner or later a moment of truth arrives, when the match is slipping away and defeat approaches, a most unwelcome guest. That is the true test of a side. How often have Manchester United scored a late goal to pinch the points?

At such times the captain will clap his hands and players will urge each other along but these outward shows of conviction can conceal as much as they reveal. Action alone counts in these periods of sporting crisis. It is in these minutes that the heart and soul of the side is exposed.

Passing the test

Suffice it to say that India has passed these tests. Harbhajan Singh’s grit has long been recognised. He can irritate and even provoke but he has the instinct of the warrior. Happily he has added maturity to his innate aggression and is rapidly emerging not merely as a key player but as a vital man in the side.

Hitherto Ashish Nehra and others in the line-up have appeared more easily subdued. And a team is as strong as its weakest link. Accordingly the sight of the lanky lefty keeping his head with a few runs required for an important win was as encouraging as it was unexpected.

Dhoni’s side has acquired the ability to will itself to victory. It is the quality observed long ago in the 1983 outfit, and indeed in most successful sides. Nothing of substance can be achieved without will power – a term that speaks for itself. Check the eyes of the true competitor and see them blaze

Solid captaincy

Dhoni’s unswerving captaincy is clearly a factor in instilling outlook. Even in a hubbub the gloveman manages to convey calm and faith in his troops. Not that previous teams were found wanting but few have been as nakedly aggressive as this capable Indian side.

Two more points arise. India’s rage to win tells of a deep-rooted confidence that goes beyond sport and speaks of players comfortable in their skin. Sport does not exist in isolation. It tells of its times. Inescapably Dhoni’s side reflects contemporary India with its economic and political clout, and yet also its traditions and local ways. A side at odds with its country is heading for trouble.


Secondly the collective determination displayed in these ODIs indicates that India can survive the distractions and softening caused by IPL. Several of these players have become extremely wealthy in a short period. These things can easily disrupt a team and weaken the individual.

If India has survived the disturbances of IPL then all things are possible. The other main threat is the pressure put upon the host nation. That is not so easily overcome.

This article was written for The Hindu.
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