Dhoni’s last-ball four, Miandad’s six and the stillness of their minds
Those of us who grew up in the 1980s hated Javed Miandad for traumatising us with insanely well calculated knocks in critical encounters with India. At the same time, even as schoolkids we could see why we needed to grow up to be like him – calm under pressure, calculating the odds all the time, a tough professional with an insanely strong desire to prevail upon the opposition with the minimum fuss. As Sandeep Dwiwedi, arguably India’s best cricket journalist at present, says in this piece, what separates the rest from the best is the ability to stay calm and keep the brain ticking under extreme pressure.
Dwiwedi quotes Miandad after the latter had psyched out a generation of Indian cricketers after that last ball six off Chetan Sharma in 1986: ““As I surveyed the field and sized up where the men were standing on the line on the on-side. I had a hunch that Chetan would try to bowl the ball at a yorker length. What else could the poor lad try? I had decided that I would step up just a shade to convert the length if the ball was dipping to the blockhole. I had an easy job, I got a juicy full toss. It was easy work to whack it between mid-wicket and long on”.”
Thankfully, in MS Dhoni India found an answer to Miandad. Dhoni’s outstanding track record as a captain – for India and for CSK – in limited overs cricket is not because he spends more hours at the nets or at the gym but because his mind functions beautifully under pressure: “Pundits say that the secret of batsmen like Dhoni middling the ball more often than not in the slog overs is their capacity to ‘retain their shape’. These nonplussed clinical hitters are praised, and envied, for their stillness at the crease. The lesser discussed, and a far more important, attribute of their batting is the stillness of their mind.
Unperturbed by the situation, they don’t think too far ahead. In interviews, players often talk about remaining in the present when thrown in the frenzy of an intense close game. That’s the easier part. Dhoni and Miandad actually walk that talk. While in pressure situations, they don’t think about the consequences of winning or losing. They don’t start imagining the hugs of their mates, the applause of the crowd or the pictures in the newspapers the next day. They also don’t let the fear of failure cloud the immediate task at hand – facing the ball and sending it over the fence.”