MS Dhoni – Leadership in the Hour of Crisis

Author: Arvind Thakore

Author:Arvind Thakore

A T20 match has 240 legal deliveries. Bangladesh was in the drivers’ seat for 237 of them in their World Cup T20 match against India. Yet the last three balls resulted in India stealing a one run victory. Bangladesh owned most of the big moments till that point. Murtaza Masharafe’s brilliant marshaling of his bowling and fielding resources, outstanding catches and clever bowling. India could only sputter its way to a total they have never defended in a T20 before.

The second half too was kind to Bangladesh. A first ball fumble gave them four runs instead of one. Jasprit Bumrah was the culprit then. He went on to drop a catch and bowl the worst spell of his short international career. The other bowlers too seemed below par, as did the fielding.

This is when Dhoni decided to unleash his master class in leadership. Some of you might call it crisis management. But to look at Dhoni on the field it seemed like just another day in the office. There are five key lessons we can learn from India’s win against Bangladesh this Wednesday.

When the Going Gets Tough, Don’t Panic: Bangladesh were motoring in their chase of a sub standard total. Dhoni needed a wicket. So he went to his ace Ashwin. However, he also needed to protect his small score against a rampaging Shakib Al Hassan. A slip would have been a luxury, but Dhoni decided to go with one. Ashwin delivered, Shakib edged and Raina snaffled it up at first slip. The key here is going all in with a risky decision. It could have gone either way; it went the right way for Dhoni.

Mind of a Strategist: Kenichi Ohmae in his book “The Mind of the Strategist” describes three thinking processes, the Systemic, the Intuitional and the Strategic. In the time of crisis most of us move to the systemic thinking process and continue to remain the box.

Dhoni by thinking like a strategist manufactured a wicket when his team needed it the most. Sabbir Rahman was running away with the game. He had 26 off 15 when Dhoni got Raina to bowl a wide down leg side. Dhoni gloved the ball, waited for Rahman to overbalance and whipped the bail at the precise moment when his leg lifted for a microsecond. Dhoni anticipated it, kept his eyes on Rahman’s foot and struck at just the right moment. The lesson here is to keep your eye on the right target. In this case it was Rahman’s foot. In a crisis situation we tend to focus on diversions. Staying focused helps us win the small moments which eventually lead to the big victory.

Marshaling Meager Resources: How many times, in a crisis, have we felt we lack the resources to deal with a situation? If only we had a little more marketing budget. If only…Dhoni had Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah for overs 19 and 20. One of them, Pandya, cannot bowl Yorkers to save his life. The other Bumrah was possibly having the worst day of his young life. Yet, he used them to deliver a fantastic victory. Sometimes, even in the height of a crisis, look around you might have a great resource sitting around waiting to be tapped. Don’t pine for something you don’t have.

On the Job Coaching: Imagine the pressure on Dhoni. It’s a World Cup match we had to win. His best bowlers were bowled out in an effort to take the game to the end. The young gun had been slaughtered, was feeling low. Yet, he had to get him to deliver. Bumrah delivered six perfect Yorkers in the 19th. He gave away only six runs that gave Hardik something to play with at the end. How did it happen to the worst performer of the day till then? Dhoni coached him. Told him to forget how rotten his day had been. Told him to focus on the job. Encouraged him. Trusted him. Coaxed one brilliant over out of him. How many times do we lose it against a team member who fumbles under pressure? How many times do we add to their pressure? Dhoni went the other way. He put the young man at ease, gave him his confidence and showed he trusted him to deliver.

Game isn’t over till it is over: Which brings us to the last over. Mushfiqur hammered the second and third balls for fours. He started celebrating after the second four. They had two runs to get from three balls. Dhoni could have let it go. Yet, he had the longest mid-pitch conference I have seen from him. Nehra was there, so was Ashwin and a few others. Even if Pandya wanted to give up they would not let him. Instead they talked, discussed, calmed down shredded nerves, delayed as long as they could and then picked up wicket, after wicket after wicket. Winning the match by simply not giving up. How many times have we given up because we feel we cannot win? How many times have we dropped the ball out of sheer hopelessness? Dhoni didn’t on Wednesday. Thereby giving team India four points and a real chance of making it to the semi finals. We lose in life because we first lose it in our mind, Dohni didn’t.

I know Dhoni’s leadership skills has been celebrated by one and all through his long captaincy. But what I find surprising is how little we seem to learn from him. We all go through our times of crisis…it could be days, months even years. The key is to dig deep, trust our instinct and keep going. Those who do might end up sneaking a win where everyone else expects a loss.

Mr. Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) summed up Dhoni’s brilliance in his tweet “T-2184 -MS Dhoni you were magnificent tonight vs Bangladesh..!! It is no joke to strategise the game the way you did, right to the last ball.”

This is the second article in the series of World Cup T20 and Leadership Lessons. Here is the first article “Virat Kolhi and the Art of Winning”

Arvind Thakore