Mahendra Singh Dhoni, to this day, is known by the moniker 'Captain Cool'. Why? Because during some of the toughest stages of his career as captain, Dhoni showed no signs of worry on his face, and made some bold decisions that left the fans stunned, but eventually won India matches. From suggesting changes in the squad, to changing the batting order, to picking a youngster instead of a veteran to bowl the final over, Dhoni made some of the most unexpected calls during a match, which, if backfired, could have hurt his reputation as a young captain. But time and time again, Dhoni proved that he has it all mapped out in his head, and he is someone who always has his thinking cap on.
As MS Dhoni celebrates his 39th birthday on Tuesday, here is a look at five times Dhoni stunned fans with bold decisions that won India matches.
India vs Pakistan, 2007 T20 World Cup Final
The final of the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 between India and Pakistan turned into a tense thriller. Misbah-ul-Haq, who had smashed Harbhajan Singh for three sixes in the 17th over, looked extremely dangerous as India prepared to defend 13 runs in the final over. Pakistan had only one wicket left, but with Misbah in the middle, the momentum was with Pakistan. Harbhajan had one over left, but captain MS Dhoni decided to give the ball to rookie medium-pacer Joginder Sharma instead of the veteran off-spinner.
Joginder started off with a wide as hearts of a billion Indians collectively sank. The first official delivery was a dot and then Misbah hit a straight six. But as Indian heads started to drop, Misbah went for the paddle shot over short-fine leg but ended up hitting the ball into the hands of Sreesanth. As commentator Ravi Shastri screamed "In the air... Sreesanth takes it, India win the World Cup", billions of Indian fans cheered across the globe. Dhoni the captain had arrived.
2008 Tri-series against Australia & Sri Lanka
As a young captain, sometimes it becomes hard to take big calls and drop certain players. Australia skipper Steve Waugh had to make the choice to drop Shane Warne in 1997 Test series against West Indies, a decision that ruffled more than a few feathers. Ahead of the away Tri-series against Australia and Sri Lanka in 2008, Dhoni, who was newly appointed the captain of the limited-overs team, made the call to drop Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. The two former India captains together amassed almost 23,000 runs in 50-over format during the course of their illustrious careers.
When asked, then BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah had said 'the emphasis was on fielding abilities and chief selectors and team management wanted a young fielding side for the tour'. In hindsight, this is the exact moment in Indian cricket when fielding became an equal ability as batting and bowling. The change in culture resulted in India being regarded as one of the best fielding sides in the world, if not the best. Not to forget their first-ever tri-series win in Australia.
India vs Sri Lanka, 2011 World Cup final
Yuvraj Singh was having a sensational World Cup tournament with both bat and ball in 2011. In the final against Sri Lanka at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, India were asked to chase a stiff total of 275. Early strikes from Sri Lanka bowling attack saw Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar getting out cheaply. Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir stitched a partnership before the former was dismissed with India still needing over 161 runs to win.
Instead of letting an in-form Yuvraj go out and face Lasith Malinga & co., Dhoni decided to step it up to the plate, and he made it to the middle to face the heat. The decision to promote himself up the batting order worked as he made an unbeaten 91 runs in 79 balls to help India chase down the total and lift the World Cup trophy.
2012 CB Tri-series vs Australia and Sri Lanka
Ever since he took up the captaincy, MS Dhoni had the vision to play 'better fielders' in the team, and he believed in picking youngsters in the team. In the 2012 Commonwealth Bank series in 2012 against Sri Lanka and Australia, Dhoni decided to rotate the trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in the matches, a decision he knew would not be going down well with the big players, and the fans.
Despite having impeccable record at the top of the order, the trio didn't feature together in the line-up right through the course of the series as Dhoni kept rotating between them. India ended up not qualifying for the final but the poor show from the openers did point out that India needed an overhaul at the top of the order.
2013 Champions Trophy
In 2013, MS Dhoni brought the much-needed overhaul in India's top-order, as he decided to promote Rohit Sharma as India team's new opener. Rohit had been a part of the Indian team since 2007 but he had been unable to find consistency in his performances to become a regular or a mainstay in the tea. Dhoni first gave him a chance to open the innings in 2011 during the South Africa tour but he could muster just 29 runs in three innings.
In January 2013, he was given the chance once more to shine at the top against England and Rohit smashed 83 runs in Mohali and never looked back since. Dhoni, then, decided to pair Rohit up with Shikhar Dhawan at the top in the Champions Trophy tournament in England. Dhawan had last played for India in 2011, and even though he had a decent run in the IPL that year, it was still to be seen whether he could make the same impact in international cricket.
Dhawan and Rohit revived India's top-order and India went on to win the 2013 Champions Trophy. From middle-order obscurity to one of the most explosive openers in the game, Rohit came a long way. He still tips his hat to Dhoni with an occasional double century for changing his fortunes and the betterment of Indian cricket as a whole. Dhoni became the only captain to win World T20, World Cup and Champions Trophy titles.