Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Dhoni Touch - Bharat Sundaresan

Here's a Dhoni book that promises to unravel the enigma of MSD. That's a big ask because you can hardly get the man to talk about himself. Bharat Sundaresan does a good job of offering an interesting perspective of the man Ravi Shastri calls LEGEND (all caps please). Bharat knows MSD well enough (as a cricket journalist he travels with the Indian team to report) for them to be having conversations about their hairstyles and how to improve on Bharat's, and this chumminess gets in the way of a fully objective view of MSD. At one stage in the book it felt like the first time I drank gin - and getting higher and higher long after you stopped drinking. MSD's greatness gets bigger and bigger to a point when we want to detach off so much perfection. But then Bharat did not promise us a full story about the enigma with its pluses and minuses - he only promised to unravel it from his viewpoint. Without interviews, and access to the man directly, it would be all based on evidence we see and try to put it all together which Bharat does and very well too. I loved his piece on Patrick Patterson by the way. Though I am a bit wary of the Pythagoras thing and Dhoni's keeping.

We start off on an unconventional note - MSD and Bharat and their long hair and how they keep talking about it when they meet. MSD's hair has undergone many changes unlike Bharat's who still maintains it waist length (I think). As with everything else MSD has his hair fully analysed and under control and tells Bharat to cut it - not fully, just to layer it so you have the same length, less weight. Hair is big for both players concerned here - Bharat's dedication of the book is to his wife Isha for letting him keep his hair longer than hers. When Bharat tells MSD of his desire to write a book about him MSD makes sure he gets all the info he needs - minus an interview of course which he promises a decade later or something like that. (That gets one to envy - or the opposite of it - when we cannot plan what's tomorrow. Can people be like that? Envy surely.)

Bharat goes to Ranchi and meets MSD's friends Chittu who takes him all around and tells him tales of MSD's childhood, his coach Keshav Ranjan Banerjee, his sports shop friend Chotu bhaiyya, his early exploits etc. Then his rise to the national team and his dizzy success after that and how he kept his cool after all that. The chapter on his army connection (he is a Lt. Col with the Indian army and one cannot forget the way he went up to receive his Padma Bhushan award), his love and understanding of weapons, his patriotism (which he wears literally), his love for his army jawan friends is all well captured thanks to Bharat's access to Colonel Vembu Shankar who is MSD's friend and senior. MSD apparently sent him a message on his last day at work - for a man who is notorious for not being in touch it gives away a facet of the enigma. MSD's many visits to army bases, where he goes with the least warning so he can mingle with his jawan friends with whom he shares a WhatsApp group are interesting to read. For someone who is very private and who does not pick up the phone nor reply to messages, from the high and mighty of the land, he is clear in his mind where his presence makes the most difference. In Rajdeep Sardesai's book 'Democracy XI' he mentions how difficult it was for him to track Dhoni and how when he finally met him in an elite party, he spent a lot of time with the drivers, waiters etc. Apparently he also leaves passes and tickets for room service people and waiters. This despite the tremendous demand for tickets from friends and well wishers. MSDs philosophy seems to be - if they have my number on their phone book, they have enough connections anyway. Another facet of the enigma surely - focus where you make the maximum impact.

There is much more about MSD in the book, some of which we already know and have seen, so let's cut to the enigma. What makes him tick (control the controllables)? What makes MSD so cool under pressure (breathe)? What makes him such a good decision maker (make more decisions and you get better at it)? What makes him so private and so grounded that even today his friends say he has not changed at all (stay in the moment)? Bharat explored this facet well enough with VB Chandrasekhar, my old pal (who finds my bowling boring 'line and length stuff' - and boring enough to get him out first ball in our Inter varsity match at Calicut - haha!). Now VB has seen MSD through his early rise and even in the IPL as the captain of CSK when VB was the Director or COO of CSK. That line - 'I don't make them feel like I am the captain. I let them feel like they are all captains' which MSD said when asked how he found leading so many ex-captains and legends is stuff Lao Tzu would have happily approved. Of course its all very well for us to quote Lao Tzu but to practice it under such pressure is what makes it all so special. I remember I asked VB the same question and he told me the same thing. Also told me that MSD is not reachable once the game is over.

Somewhere MSD has found the right idea and held on to it - that leadership is about facilitating and allowing others to step up and do their job and not imposing stuff on others, that the best way to control is to let go of control, improving others by giving feedback at the right time, about treating professionals with a level of respect and responsibility that they feel obliged to live up to the responsibility vested with them, about the importance of setting the context and narrative (as he did with the Rhiti Sports deal) and not simply fitting into someone else's context, about keeping things simple (like a Buddhist monk), about thinking of the situation at hand and being ahead of it, about believing in himself and his people immensely and holding that belief firmly till the end.

His first principles are firm. About people, about how to treat people, not gossiping or encouraging loose talk, about roles and clarity of roles, about dignity of self and other. A lot of what he has learned seem to come from his own powers of analysis and concentration, of learning quickly from his failures and successes, an eye for detail, a solution-oriented mind that keeps searching for tough challenges to conquer - his meddling with his bikes, gadgets, weapons, mastering anything he wants to in very short times (except swimming..that was a nice one), his belief that man will always have one imperfection. He is not religious but visits one temple in Ranchi before and after every tour and never shows his palm to a palmist. You get the feeling that he is not going to run to the major temples to hold on to what he has gained as I see some doing. He will figure it out, adapt and get ahead.

Chittu gives the secret away in one line - watch how he breathes. It's not that he is unfit. He breathes to be aware, to be present, to be fully in the moment. In this mastery of being the moment MSD has developed tremendous capacity to cut through the chaff and get down to the real thing when the rest of the world is breathing shallowly and losing it. That one moment of clarity, that conviction and belief and all of this encompassed in earthy wisdom and humour. In matches, in finances, in life.

Good job Bharat Sundaresan. I like your style. It's not too in the face, not too technical which is always debatable and which sometimes gets carried too far by some, and not too dramatic. Just the right amount to make it impersonal yet personal. Nothing in the book has taken away from MSD, and what it has added has been done gently and with sensitivity. Wishing you many more books and a job well done. I must recall that moment when someone says in the book - "anyone who touches Mahi will be a huge success, now that you are writing about him you will be too." To validate that statement I remember meeting young Sfurthi Sahare who wrote the runaway bestseller 'Think and Win like Dhoni' and her life certainly changed for the better after that. So Bharat, good things await. I have certainly picked a few pointers to improve my own life and my reactions to it from the insights you presented.

And thanks are owed to Shobhs, one of MSD's greatest fans, who bought this book so I could read it.

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