Laakhon Mey Ek – Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Horn effect and learnings for leaders . Freaky Fridays Blog #2

Folks- this is my second blog. Caution: Long post ahead.

As promised, every Friday, you will see a blog from me. The genre will alternate between sarcasm and inspiration every week. My first blog last Friday was a sarcastic take on my 30 minute daily bath routine. Read it in case you have missed it and directly landed it here. This week, it’s going to be a piece of inspiration, about a man who has been understood only by a few… “Ek aisa insaan… Jo Laakhon Mey Ek Hai… Laakhon Mey Ek

A vast Majority of Indians… wait, let me first define vast majority ;they are THE cricket crazy Indians who always have an opinion on all things cricket – trust me it’s a vast majority.  Out of 133.92 crore Indians, I am assuming 80% (4 in every 5 Indians cutting across race, religion, age, gender, caste, location) have an opinion on all things cricket which is 107 crore; which equals the sum total of the population of Europe and USA.

A significant proportion of this vast majority  doesn’t understand this man’s actions and thinks this man is a brat, he’s arrogant, he’s above everybody, he doesn’t always play in an ideal manner, he works on his whims and fancies,  he takes the game too deep in a run chase, he more often than not puts the team under pressure in a run chase, which in turn ends up screwing India’s chances of winning a game, he’s an ultra-defensive batsman  who only attacks when the situation turns extremely critical, he’s overstaying his days as a keeper-batsman, he should pave the way for Rishab Pant in WC 2019 and hand over the keeper’s role immediately, he’s stopping young blood etc. etc… No points for guessing who this Friday’s blog is all about. It’s about one of the most Inspirational Indians produced by our motherland – Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Let me prove this significant proportion wrong through a few data points, insights and inferences based on incidents.

Before I get into talking about why MSD is a once-in-a-lifetime legend, let me digress for a moment and explain a phenomenon called Horn effect. I heard about this Horn effect from my dear friend Sandeep Somisetty. He prides himself in showing off and throwing off such MBA jargons which bamboozles aam junta like us. Just like how the Aussies were bamboozled by Kuldeep Yadav’s wrong’uns in the recent final Test at Sydney, he too bamboozles us with such jargons.  We have a college WhatsApp group called “XL Bakchods” (All the Bakchods of 2011 batch of XLRI Jamshedpur) and while there was a heated discussion on MSD’s approach of taking the game deep in the recent Ind-Aus ODI series decider in Melbourne, Somi pulled off a wrong’un and said “I guess because of The Horn Effect, we are being extremely critical of MSD”.  When in doubt, I don’t just Google – I Wiki; the “I” here being me and not Somi. Wikipedia defines Horn effect as a form of negative bias that causes one’s perception of another to be unduly influenced by a single negative trait. It’s a poor cousin of the Halo effect. Wiki quotes a simplified example of the halo effect; “when an individual notices that the person in a photograph is attractive, well groomed, and properly attired, s/he assumes that the person in the photograph is a good person. The halo effect is an evaluation by an individual and can affect the perception of a decision, action, idea, business, person, group, entity etc. etc.” Having defined Horn and Halo effect through Wiki, let me come back to MSD.

MSD to me is one of the most self-aware individuals the game of cricket has ever produced. When he started his career in the early 2000s, he was aware that India had Sachin, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Sourav, and Rahul still going strong. He knew he could not be a replacement for them as a batsman. He also must have smartly realized that the Indian team was missing a strong wicketkeeper batsman similar to the likes of Adam Gilchrist. That was his best chance of realistically getting into a star studded batting team. I guess he realized very early that he had a better skill set as a batsman than a bowler. Wicket-Keeping skills, I think he acquired. The reason I am hypothesizing this hunch of mine is because I don’t think anyone wanting to play cricket for India would dream of being a wicket keeper batsman for India in the 90s. Nayan Mongia was a good keeper but If I am a 90’s kid wanting to play for India, I would want to be Sachin, Kris Srikanth, Kapil Dev, Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath etc. but neither Syed Kirmani nor Nayan Mongia. After Mongia, there was a huge void. We dabbled with quite a few over a period of 5 years from ‘99 to’04– Sameer Dighe, MSK Prasad, Vijay Dahiya, Ajay Ratra, and Dinesh Karthik.

Fed up of this, one day, Sourav Chandidas Ganguly (my favourite cricket leader on the parameter of taking bold decisions based on gut and making it work) must have thought “enough is enough. Let’s make Rahul Dravid do this job for World Cup 2003 and later find a long-term replacement for Mongia”. Wicket keeping was a pretty thankless job therefore talented Indian boys never took up wicket-keeping as aspiration until Romesh Kaluwitharana started changing this perception. Adam Gilchrist came over and revolutionized the concept of a wicket-keeper batsman.

Let’s go back to the street-smart, highly self-aware MSD. Even though he might have wanted to be like the Master Blaster, I assume he felt his most realistic chance was blasting his way into the team as a keeper-batsman. Ganguly was wanting to complete the Indian team with this one gap. Dhoni must have figured out that neither could he play the most elegant offside cover drive like Sourav, nor play the most beautiful straight drive like Sachin. He was highly self-aware. Yet, given these constraints, he dreamt of making it big. When an individual assesses his strengths and weaknesses at such a young age, rest assured he’s destined to glory. MSD knew that he had a far higher probability of bludgeoning the ball out of the park, playing a cut and a pull well. He knew that with this three shots in his armoury, and a good solid defence, he could go places. He believed this was the approach.  He only decided to focus on these strengths – pure strength of swinging his arms, a good cut, a fearless pull, a strong defence. The fundamental key to long term success in sports or in professional life is physical fitness. So he just kept good at these 5 aspects and decided to back himself. At the age of 22, he had very bold, uncomplicated thinking and amazing execution. No great strategy… Just executing 4 or 5 basics consistently… Like Glen McGrath…

So, early years of MSDextremely self-aware, excellent execution, superb fitness and above all – calmness /composurepersonified with a flexible attitude (flexible as he was OK to get in as a keeper and not as a successor to Sachin- a very realistic dream).  To me these are the 4 or 5 adjectives which define any successful person in life. Flexible attitude is the key. Attitude is everything. With the right attitude, every problem can be converted into an opportunity, every challenge can be overcome, every idea can be executed, and any goal can be achieved. MSD personifies attitude – flexible attitude. If “attitude is everything” is to be attributed to any one individual in my sphere of life, I would put MSD at the top right now, even above Sachin.

So, MSD bludgeoned his way into the Indian team in the early 2000s by smashing bowlers out of the park. I first watched MSD live in 2003 when he along with Irfan Pathan had screwed Pakistan A while playing for India A. It was literally a brutal attack for Pakistan A team bowlers in that match. Ball after ball, went either over long on, mid-wicket or deep square leg. The Pakistani bowlers were flummoxed. This no-holds barred approach earned him a call up to the national squad as a keeper-batsman.

Ironically, the first ball MSD faced in ODI cricket, on the 26th of Dec 2004 in Dhaka, he got run out. It was against Bangladesh. Dhoni was up against left arm spinner Mohd. Rafique. Mohd. Kaif was at the non-striker end. Dhoni pushed the ball to short fine leg and started running. Kaif sent him back but it was too late. Khaled Mahmud, one of the better fielders from Bangladesh, made him run out. It’s only fitting to this legend that 12 years later,  on March 23rd 2016, a mind-blowing MSD run out with his gloves taken off , knocked Bangladesh out in the last ball of the T20 World Cup semi-final at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore . It was a chaotic match. Bangladesh was 1 stroke away from knocking out India. Bangladesh was at 145/6 in 19.3 overs. Hardik Pandya was bowling. 4 balls left, 2 runs to win with 4 wickets in hand.  Mushfiqur Rahim the wicket keeper of Bangladesh thought he could finish it off with a 6 and emulate MSD’s 6 to finish off World Cup 2011. He did not calculate risk vs cost of failure unlike MSD and let the chaos get to him and got out. Then, chaos started . Mahmuduallah the next batsman also fell trying to go for the winning six and holed out to Sir Jadeja. 2 wickets in 2 balls. 1 ball 2 runs to win

With one ball two runs to win, MSD had the balls and guts to do what no other wicketkeeper /captain/leader in the world had ever done before in a similar situation. He , Ashish Nehra and Pandya would have had  a more than 5 minute discussion before the last ball was bowled. MSD anticipated a run off the bye. He took his gloves off before the ball was bowled because he knew that a run out was a very practical scenario in this context. Again, EXTREMELY SELF – AWARE, EXTREMELY COMPOSED, EXTREMELY GOOD EXECUTION, EXTREMELY FIT and above all a FLEXIBLE ATTITUDE. BACK YOUR IDEAS. FUCK OTHERS. Fuck the Critics. Fuck the junta. Fuck everyone. Let the world go take a flying fuck. Be practical. Back your strength. MSD’s biggest strength is his intuition. Killer intuition. “Think one step ahead of your opponent.”  The last ball of the match got scripted exactly the way MSD wanted.  The batsman missed the ball, went for a run. MSD was one step ahead. He had taken his gloves off. Again, he dint throw the ball at the stumps. He knew there was a probability that the stumps could be missed. Instead he decided to do this by running all through to the stumps. He ran as fast as he could. He knew he was a good runner. He backed his fitness. He ran and took the bails off. He knew the non-striker would start off the blocks quickly. It was Hardik Pandya’s zippy medium pace. He still decided to take his gloves off, ran and took the bails off. He wanted to control all the controllables, like Virat mentions. He did not care about the uncontrollables. He took the bails off. He knew that if he did his job well, God would reward him for it. And yes the last ball of this match was exactly scripted the way MSD wanted it to be. The runout decision went to the third umpire and yes, Mustafizur was run out by MSD. India won by a run, pulling out victory from the jaws of defeat. That to me is the hallmark of a true legend. Read this cricinfo article where MSD talks about how he managed absolute chaos and came out with his head held high.

The vast and significant majority of world population cannot disagree on this. These are very rare leadership traits. And MSD has demonstrated these qualities time again. This is just one example. He really does his risk vs cost of failure calculation very well.  Look at his career graph.  I feel he started as a swashbuckling batsman who could also keep wickets but never showed it to the world. With each passing day, having entered as a batsman, he continued to work on his wicket-keeping skills so that even if his batting failed, he would always be a part the squad only for his keeping skills.  Despite not scoring highly in his first 4 international matches, he knew that his daring approach was right in the initial part of his career. He anticipated that the bowlers would not expect an Indian wicketkeeper batsman to explode like Gilchrist. Always one step ahead. So for the first 3 years, he continued to be fearless, play his cricket the Gilchrist way. It took I guess 3 years for bowlers to figure him out. By this time, he figured out that this approach could not continue so he decided to use controlled aggression. He decided that for the rest of his life, he would make bowlers earn his wicket. He would not gift his wicket away.  For the initial few years, his batting theme was aggression. Then it was controlled aggression. Now it is dogged aggression. He’s extremely self-aware of his role in the side at different points in his career.

There are multiple instances of MSD’s astute mind. In the 2007 T20 world cup league match vs Pakistan, in a bowl-out tie breaker, he only decided to use spinners instead of fast bowlers as the probability of a spinner hitting stumps is higher. All his spinners hit the stumps. Pakistan’s fast bowlers missed the stumps. And mind you, this was MSD’s first international tournament as captain. Sachin, Sourav, Rahul and Zaheer decided to opt out of T20 2007 World Cup. MSD took over a team of very few stars, mostly rookies and won the World Cup for India. Gambhir, Rohit, Uthappa, Joginder Sharma, RP Singh, DK, Yusuf Pathan, Sreeshanth were not household names that time. Only Sehwag, Yuvraj, Bhajji and MSD were the famous names. Still he took his team to glory. HIS team. Not the critics’ team. Not the BCCI’s team. Not the Indian fans team. HIS team. Dhoni’s team. In the final over when Misbah-ul-Haq had blasted every bowler- Bhajji, Pathan, Sreeshanth, he decided to give the ball to the most unlikely choice – Joginder Sharma. It was risky but smart. The other choice was Bhajji who anyways was getting tonked in the previous over by Misbah. So the probability of this repeating was high. Joginder, on the other hand, was unconventional. No pace. So Misbah had to work up pace. MSD backed himself as well as Joginder. One of the great qualities of a leader is to visualize positive outcomes in high pressure situations and work with a rational mind to help achieve those outcomes. MSD visualized Misbah falling to Joginder and India winning the World Cup. When you wish for something to happen very badly, and give 200% effort with a rational mind to make it happen, then the Almighty and the Entire Universe will make it happen( Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist and Rhonda Byrne – The Secret have written this but you can’t get a better example than this ).  God scripted Misbah’s wicket to Joginder Sharma exactly the way MSD had planned. It was no fluke.

Success once can be termed as fluke. Success twice or thrice can be termed as luck. But success consistently cannot be fluke or luck. There’s something more, something deep, yet something uncomplicated. EXTREMELY SELF – AWARE, EXTREMELY COMPOSED, EXTREMELY FIT, EXTREMELY GOOD EXECUTION and above all a FLEXIBLE ATTITUDE. BACK YOUR IDEAS. FUCK OTHERS.  This is beyond fluke, freak, luck, fortune. Critics thought that after Sachin, Sourav, Rahul and Anil’s departure, Indian cricket would struggle for a few years of transition to find a similar level of class. But that was the opinion of the fucking critics. MSD did not give a fuck. He knew what resources he had, he had a plan, and he backed himself and achieved success.  Retirement years of a few Indian legends of the Golden Generation – Sourav 2008, Rahul 2011, Anil 2012, VVS 2012 and God 2013. Let’s look at India’s performance between 2007 and 2013.  2007- T20 World Cup champions,2008-12 – Test series wins abroad in New Zealand and West Indies and Tied test series in South Africa. 2013- Under his captaincy, India became the first team to whitewash Australia in a Test series after a gap of more than 40 years. India retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2008, 2010 and 2013. 2009- Dhoni led the Indian team to number one position for the first time in the ICC Test rankings. All these when Indian cricket was expected to transition and take time to reach the heights set by the Golden Generation. Dhoni did not allow it to happen. And it was not a fluke. It was planned. The phasing of seniors to give way to young blood was not done in a single year (the mistake which Steve Waugh’s Aussies committed when McGrath, Warne, Langer and a few greats retired after an Ashes series Down Under). Street –smart Dhoni. The popular decision is not always the best decision in the context of a team. MSD has taken a few bold calls in this context like continuing to back Sir Jadeja to be a full time Test bowler, Shikhar Dhawan’s comeback at age 29 etc. Fittingly, MSD was the first captain to win all 3 limited overs trophies (World Cup, Champions Trophy, and T20) and also the No.1 Test ranking. All of this cannot be fluke.

Critics will argue that he was lucky to have talented players. My retort is that talent is always available. Either you are born with it or you can develop it. But what you do with talent is what matters most. In Azhar’s time also, we had talented players coming through. But we couldn’t win abroad.  Ganguly changed it and made Indians believe we could win abroad. Young talent was backed and they revolved around the experienced Golden Generation. Ganguly knew that Sachin, Rahul, Anil, Srinath, VVS and himself couldn’t continue forever. So he groomed Sehwag, Yuvraj, Kaif, Zaheer, Bhajji and Dhoni. Dhoni took it to another level. Under him, he groomed Virat, Rohit, Suresh Raina, Dhawan, Ashwin, and Jadeja. Critics always say he had favourites but it’s always giving someone a full chance and backing your instincts. Rohit Sharma was failing after multiple chances but Dhoni decided to send him to open and boy-o-boy that’s one of the best decisions. Again risk vs cost of failure analysis .Extremely high. Again… EXTREMELY SELF – AWARE, EXTREMELY COMPOSED, EXTREMELY FIT, EXTREMELY GOOD EXECUTION and above all a FLEXIBLE ATTITUDE. BACK YOUR IDEAS. FUCK OTHERS.

Like all humans who make mistakes, MSD also made a few mistakes. MSD resigned in the middle of a Test series Down Under in Dec 2014. His decision was right but I felt the timing could have been after the Test series. He figured out that Test cricket required aggressive captaincy and his style was not working any more. He decided not only to just end captaincy but also retire from test Cricket with immediate effect. Again, self-awareness… He wanted to focus for 5 or 6 more years in limited overs cricket. His instinct must have told him that Virat is ready and it won’t be a big void for Indian cricket. Later, he abruptly resigned from ODIs in 2017 to make way for Virat to be captain of all 3 formats. He wanted a smooth leadership transition. He wanted to play with Virat and mentor Virat. ZERO EGO. He realized it was time to groom and move on. Amazing leadership qualities.

Coming back to MSD’s quality of taking the game deep into the death overs, playing slowly and making the required rate climb up in the end overs. Critics say it’s not necessary. It puts unnecessary pressure in the end. But what critics do not realize is the context. Context gives meaning to anything and everything. In the recent series decider, the pitch was not easy. India had lost few wickets and it had an experienced finishing line up. In today’s T20 era, if a team needs 80 runs or less in last 10 overs with 6 to 7 wickets in hand, there’s an 80% probability that the team wins. This would not hold true in the Sachin era where teams would just struggle under pressure. This is precisely the same reason why Virat King Kohli backs his team to chase better and more importantly, himself. He also comes from the MSD school of thought. Calculated risks vs cost of failure and probability of success. Given that the Indian middle , lower order in the last 2 or 3 years doesn’t have Yuvraj, Raina, Harbhajan etc. in their prime, it makes sense for someone to hold up one end of the innings, keep wickets in hand in the end when bowlers are under pressure. Even to this date, I can hardly think of 2 or 3 death bowlers in world cricket who can bowl Yorkers consistently and scare the shit out of batsman. Not easy. Batsmen have figured out scoop shots etc. . . . After Wasim, Waqar, I think the closest we can get in world cricket for death over yorkers is Bumrah and Bhuvi . Name 5 such bowlers and I will give it to you critics. MSD and Kohli are aware of this. Aware that there are very few world class bowlers today who cant crumble under the pressure of bowling consistent yorkers. Even if a Yorker is coming, MSD has a helicopter shot waiting in his armoury. Freddie Flintoff realized this quite a few years ago the hard way. And MSD knows 8 out of 10 times, if he’s there in the end, he will end up on the winning side. And this approach works only for MSD. Not for anyone else. Kohli comes close. MSD has Jadhav, DK, and Hardik to play the aggressive strokes around him. He knows after Rahul Dravid, Indian cricket doesn’t have a WALL in ODI cricket . A wall who’s wicket is not very easy to get. He’s trying to fill in that role till 2019 WC so that he can get them home. Again, extremely SELF AWARE. This approach has worked for MSD. He took 15 runs off the last over vs Sri Lanka. He plays out the best bowlers and goes after the weaker ones. Even in the 2011 WC final, he got himself ahead of Yuvi as he wanted to block Murali and prevent fall of more wickets. EXTREMELY SELF – AWARE, EXTREMELY COMPOSED, EXTREMELY FIT, EXTREMELY GOOD EXECUTION and above all a FLEXIBLE ATTITUDE. BACK YOUR IDEAS. FUCK OTHERS.

To conclude, the word “Thailava” in Tamil means Leader.  Only two famous Indians have been conferred this Title by Tamil Fans. One is “Thailavar” Rajnikanth and the other is “Namma Thala Da”- Dhoni.  Truly deserving. A once-in-a lifetime leader. To all those useless critics, most of whom haven’t picked up a fucking bat all their life and played in a stadium, just shut your asses up and watch MSD unfold his final script till World Cup 2019 the way he wants. I don’t know what script MSD is playing in his mind for WC 2019. I only pray and hope that he is scripting the final moments  of the finals of World Cup 2019 ( Sunday, the 14th of June at cricket’s Mecca – Lord’s ) and scripts hitting a winning 6 to bring the Cup home for India, like in 2011.  If MSD decides to use this script, even God can’t stop it from unfolding itself. Indian cricket is lucky to have an amazingly outstanding leader like him.

No management book can teach leadership better than MSD.

You know why?






Kyunki …Mahendra Singh Dhoni…. Laakhon Mein Ek Hai…  Laakhon Mein Ek

3 thoughts on “Laakhon Mey Ek – Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Horn effect and learnings for leaders . Freaky Fridays Blog #2”

  1. I like this one, hated the last post/rant, maybe because I was an ardent cricket fan during the era you have described. I recall that Dhoni when he started was pretty poor in dealing with short-pitch bowling, he had a very strong bottom-hand almost like Jayasuriya but if you bowled fast and short you could contain him easily. I doubt he planned his entry in such a meticulous manner, but it is very true his adaptability and self-awareness is incredible. Keep it up Hari


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