I grew up a baseball fan.
As I have mentioned before, I moved around a lot as a kid, and never really had a hometown team, so I supported certain players instead.
And my favorites were always the catchers.
Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, and the late, great Gary Carter. Just to name a few.
There are rarely captains named in baseball, Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko are the only two active players who have been officially designated as captains, but the catchers were always the unofficial captains more often than not, and officially or unofficially, they were always the on field defensive leaders: as they are the only players on the the diamond that can see the entire field.
Their responsibilities, defensively, are endless – they need be able to talk down an errant pitcher, throw out base stealers, and make split second decisions on whether to call for the cut off man – and on top of all of that, their position is simply brutal physically, far more so than any other position with the possible exception of the pitcher, and yet, unlike the pitchers in the American League, they are expected to pull the shin guards off and go out and bat and run the bases the next half inning.
Their determination in the face of near constant physical pain, their baseball smarts, and their on field leadership are the reasons why ex-catchers always seem to make for good managers/coaches, and those were the same reasons catchers were always my favorite, too.
And so, it followed, that when I “discovered” cricket in 2007, that I would have a hard time finding a single team to support, and that I would seek out the wicketkeepers, and the captains, as my favorites, and so of course when I stumbled upon Mahendra Singh Dhoni, I was in love. His long hair, his big sixes, his wicketkeeping, his captaincy…it was a perfect storm. He instantly became one of my favorite athletes on the planet. And I cannot tell you how happy his double century yesterday at Chennai made me.
He did what captains are supposed to do: put a struggling team on their shoulders and lead them to victory. And when he does finally get out, he will have to put the gloves on, and lead his him defensively. No hiding at deep backward point. No resting on his laurels.
He has come under criticism as of late, because of Dominica and slow over rates and lackluster performances, but I think the bulk of the criticism has been unfair.
India was the number on Test side on the planet for a time under Dhoni – and yes it was short lived but it still happened. India won the World Cup in 2011 under Dhoni – to stay it was a “must win” tournament for India would be an understatement. Yet despite all that pressure, he led his team to the pinnacle.
And on top of all that pressure, he still has to go out and lead, and keep the wicket, and bat:
There have been 12 centuries in Test cricket from a wicketkeeper that was also team captain: Dhoni has five of them. Of the 20 highest scores from a wicketkeeper also serving as captain, Dhoni has ten of them. Half.
A leader, a captain, a wicketkeeper, a batsman.
Surely he has his flaws, but here’s hoping his performance in Chennai this week will quiet a few of those critics…for a little while at least.
Great batting, captain. Great batting indeed.