MS Dhoni has a reputation of being calm and almost unemotional. Players under his captaincy have often talked about how he would rarely ever express any emotion on the field and how that would initially confuse them. But they also talk about how he gave them confidence in abundance to express themselves.
Apart from back-door decision-making, his stint as India captain through Tests and limited overs has been fairly uncontroversial.
But strangely, two of his major controversies came at the same venue and against the same team. At Trent bridge, Nottingham vs England, in Tests.
The time of the first scene was July 2011, the tour India was whitewashed on. India was then the number one side in the world. It was the second match of the series after India had already lost by 196 runs in the first.
In the second innings for England, Ian Bell was given run-out in one of the most bizarre cases in cricket ever. That too on the last ball before tea.
His batting partner Eoin Morgan had played the ball to long leg and while trying to stop the ball from crossing the boundary, a diving Praveen Kumar had the ball bounce off his leg. The fielder himself felt the ball had touched the boundary. But as the ball made its way back to the square, Dhoni threw it to Abhinav Mukund who promptly took the bails off and appealed for Bell out.
The umpires gave the decision in India's favour. In all of this, Morgan and Bell were already walking towards the pavilion thinking the over had been called. Both English batsmen and the entire crowd were stunned.
Debate raged while the teams were inside the dressing rooms, with commentators elaborating on what they thought was the right thing to do in this situation. Should India have tried to run-out Bell? Should the umpires have given him out? And so on.
As the teams walked out again, came Bell as well.
|Ravindra Jadeja (left) shakes hands with James Anderson. (Photo: Reuters)|
Dhoni had withdrawn the appeal. His decision was hailed as a win for sportsmanship even against bitter rivals who rarely ever gave an inch.
At the same time, many felt the decision was legal and Dhoni should have been more astute. England went on to win the match by 319 runs.
Cut to Trent bridge 2014. This time Nottingham was hosting the first of five Tests vs India, during which James Anderson was charged by India for "pushing and abusing" Ravindra Jadeja. This after a mediation by an ICC lawyer failed to yield results.
What followed was a protracted saga of charges and counter-charges, an ICC hearing by a judicial commissioner and subsequent letting-off of Anderson.
While India was accused by the Brirish media of flexing its muscle on the global stage (remember, Srinivasan was still head of the ICC then), England was accused of justifying unacceptable abuse as a brand of hard cricket.
All of the drama was a throwback to the Harbhajan-Symonds saga in 2008 in Australia. In fact, Bhajji was the last cricketer to be charged with a Level 3 offence in international cricket.
During this, one man who stood by his demand of action on the English pacer was Indian captain Dhoni who was personally invested as a "witness" and made no intentions to hide it. He was the force de majeure behind India's legal proceedings, evidently also not listening to the powers-that-be that wanted to let the issue be.
Dhoni is not someone who readily discussed all issues, especially uncomfortable ones, in press conferences. But this time, he was vocal like never before.
Perhaps for the very first time, we had Dhoni not skirting issues but defiantly taking a public stand. He said repeatedly: "I did what was right. If someone does something wrong, I will stand against it." He brought the very essence of what is "sportsmanship" into focus.
In the end, India was left embarrassed by the judgment. When I asked Dhoni if he felt this was a personal loss for him, as had been made out in the media as well, he made no attempts to suggest otherwise. He was happy he did what he did, regardless of the result.
Never before or after was Dhoni seen in this avatar.