I remember watching an India A vs Pakistan A game quite randomly one day and saw his long-haired boy just enjoying himself while batting against the Pakistan bowlers. He showed no fear, in fact, he was enjoying the moment. He played all sorts of shots, hooking, pulling, cutting, driving, to dominate the opposition and did it without making it a personal battle. What separated him from the others was the fact that he did not seem to have any fear of failing. Enjoy the moment and seize the day seemed to be his mottos.
That then was the first lesson I learned from MSD. But behind that lesson were several things that he did which saw him go from strength to strength from his India A days and way more than achieving his potential. Forget his own potential, he ensured that many others achieved more than their potential.
There are lessons for us to learn too, some that we already have imbibed from him, some that we can consciously adopt. Some of them are his often quoted mantras.
1) Keep it simple - See things as they are. Ball versus bat, person versus person, team versus team. Don't overcomplicate things. Keep simple goals and execute them. This is harder than you think but with practice, can be done. It needs clarity to keep things simple.
2) Don't fear losing, be open to all possibilities, but do your best to win - When you fear losing, you lose the winning edge. If you feared losing you might have had Harbhajan bowl the last over in the 2007 T20 final and not Joginder Singh. Be open to all possibilities at all times, even when you are looking down the barrel of the gun or at the finish tape, and push for the win at all times. It's a variant of the Stockdale Principle.
3) You cannot win by sitting in the pavilion, stay on the ground as long as you can - Often criticised for delaying things, it is a fantastic tactic because the longer you are out there, the more the pressure on the opponent because everyone knows that MSD can convert sixes out of nowhere. IThis pushing it back is backed by his confidence in his ability to pounce on mistakes that bowlers are bound to make (most times by overthinking). Not everyone can do it, not everyone can hold themselves, not everyone can belive in their ability. But if you can hold yourself, things change and you can seize the advantage. Like they say, the first guy who blinks is dead.
4) Be present always - I feel the secret to MSD's success is in his breathing. One can see his nose flaring in times of extreme stress as he uses his breath to stay present and to be aware of all that's happening around him to make the best decision. He is the master of being aware, being present, which reflects in his clear-headed decisions. Breathe. Breathe. So says Chris Gayle. But no uses it better than MSD.
5) Find ways to allow the players to give their best to the team - The way he uses players who are not stars and gets them to perform crucial roles is amazing. The way he used Yuvraj against Kevin Peterson, made Deepak Chahar believe in himself, bowls Kedar Jadhav with his unorthodox action, used Robin Uthappa and Virender Sehwag in the shoot out or Joginder Sharma to bowl his final over are some examples out of hundreds.
6) Allow everyone to rise above their weight - The number of players who performed above their weight, who have turned matchwinners, who have become great leaders by just being around MSD is not a joke and this is his greatest contribution of all. He created leaders, performers who believed in themselves. But he did it in a way that it was all about them realising their value, not about him making them realise their value. Unlike some who jump up to take credit for promoting someone as captain or batsman, MSD never speaks of taking credit for someone else's growth. It is all theirs.
7) Be clear about your first principles - If there is one thing I love about Dhoni, it is that he made his success by believing in his first principles. From what I know and see, his first principles are about being straight, figuring things out better than the others and thereby adding to his value, knowing his value, respecting the game, knowing his role and expanding his role for the team, never making it about himself. He used the right principles to become successful and he continues to be just the same despite his unbelievable success. We have seen so many forgetting their first principles once they became successful. His army story is one of them.
8) It's about the process - He always says this. It's about the process. If the process is right, you will get the right results. Don't run after results, get your process correct. In a way, this requires a bit of thought, about what the right process is, and if we can figure that and follow it, more times than not, you will get the right results.
9) Fix the process while training, not on the field - I was so impressed when in an interview he was asked about a bowler who had given away a lot of runs and cost the match and how he did not lose his cool. He said something very mature - if I shout at him, he will lose his concentration even more. This has to be set right in practice, not on the field. On the field, I can only encourage him to perform better.
10) You can always handle more - MSD loves the limelight he said. He loves being seen. He does not shy away from the limelight, nor from being seen. He loves responsibility and handling it. He loves success and wants more despite the unbelievable amount of success he has had. That openness to receive, that not thinking too much about it and letting it lie in its place while he does what he enjoys doing is impressive. The way he stays in Ranchi, is in touch with his childhood pals, stays rooted is amazing.
11) It's never about yourself, it's all about the team, wear it all lightly - The biggest stage made the biggest show their true character. Imran Khan's famous me-me speech after the world cup when he forgot to mention his team, to so many others who jumped in to soak in the limelight, aware of the photo op - the leaders with mud feet have made it all about themselves in the end. MSD walks away and is barely seen in the group pic, not holding the Cup. He has done his job, let the team enjoy the success.
12) Know your priorities - There's a ruthless precision to his priorities. I remember reading in Rajdeep Sardesai's book how he could not meet MSD for a long time and when he finally got to meet him at a high profile party, MSD spent a lot of time before meeting the celebrity guests with the drivers and help, taking photos and clicking selfies. Or travelling in a train with his teammates to play a Ranji Trophy game. HOr sleeping on the floor in an airport. He is rooted/
13) Let your actions do the talking - This is his biggest yet. It is all about his actions and not about talking. Something the Aussies can learn from him. Even his team meetings are supposedly notoriously short - two minutes. But even more is the way he says exactly what has to be said, not a word more not a word less. He does not give long speeches about how he does things, he merely does things and we can learn from watching him.
14) Smile - And always, despite that pressure, the demands of fame, smile, really smile so that it reaches your eyes and then reaches other peoples hearts. If nothing else, we can pick this up from MSD. It will make our life easier. And from what we have seen, maybe smiling makes you win more too.
This for now.