Sport is a game of skills, where the better team/player is more likely to win and outsmart the opponent. Yet, chance, fate, superior strategy and courage to take risks do play a role, sometimes minor and at other times a very significant one, in deciding the winner. Even among various disciplines of sport, some are supposed to be more amenable towards strokes of luck that turn a match upside down. Cricket is one of the prime examples of a sport that is considered to have a very strong element of luck involved in deciding which way the dice falls.
All these thoughts streamed through the mind after India’s victory in the second one day tie against Australia, where Vijay Shankar emerged as the unlikely last over hero. Vijay, who is now a strong contender for a World Cup spot, is not India’s main strike bowler, a bits and pieces player whose utility lies in his all-round strength.
In a match where Australia appeared racing towards victory, India were undecided on their choice of bowlers. Skipper Virat Kohli would have given Vijay the 46th over to bowl, reserving his main bowlers till the very end. A strategy vetoed by MS Dhoni, the default mode skipper these days for India, and Rohit Sharma. They persuaded Kohli to fall back on the main strike bowler Jasprit Bumrah and not allow the game to drift away.
As it transpired, the strategy worked to perfection. Jasprit Bumrah did the job expected of him and Vijay succeeded in taking the final two wickets in the last over to help his team win. In hindsight, what was a risky move when the match was slipping away from India’s hands, turned out to be a masterstroke. Even after Bumrah’s strikes, the match could have still been lost, as Australia required 11 from the final over, a number very much within the realms of possibility in the present day game. Since the final goal of a team is to win a match, it is the result which decides which strategy was good and which bad. In this case, the Dhoni-Rohit move and Kohli’s willingness to heed their advise worked well for the team.
That takes me back to Dhoni’s decision to hand the last over of the 2007 T20 World Cup final against Pakistan to rookie Joginder Sharma, instead of the experienced Harbhajan Singh. Pakistan required 13 off the final over and India one wicket.
A six reduced the deficit to just five runs but Joginder got the in-form skipper Misbah-ul-Haq and India won the first ever World T20. Dhoni had in this very tournament as India’s captain shown the world that he is not averse to taking risks as a captain, even when what’s at stake is a World Cup.
Over the years what has defined Dhoni as a leader is not only his unflappable temperament no matter how great the stress, but also his unconventional bowling changes. Unlike Kohli, for whom winning is the only thing that matters, Dhoni perhaps enjoys the process to achieve that end more than the result itself. Without doubt the value of a strategic move depends on the result it achieves.
When it pays, we call it the work of a genius and when it fails we find obvious flaws in it. Dhoni, perhaps, did not mind failing, realising that chance and luck too are a strong element of the game, even if strategically you may have done the right thing. That probably explains his calm leadership qualities and unusual bowling moves.