Kapil spoke from Mumbai on Saturday afternoon, days after Dhoni completed 10 years at the international level.
Point to note is that even in Dhoni’s worst days, Kapil didn’t call for his head, unlike most other former cricketers Excerpts...
Dhoni’s completed a decade in the India colours...
Time flies. Most place Dhoni among the five finest cricketers produced by India (others being Tiger Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil himself)...Dhoni does have a very special place, look at the results he’s produced... Offhand, I can think of a couple of others as well... Gundappa Viswanath, Anil Kumble.
(Besides over 13,000 runs and 600 dismissals in the three formats, Dhoni has captained India to wins in the World T20, the World Cup and the Champions Trophy. Also, under his captaincy, India became No.1 in Test cricket, in December 2009.)
What were your first impressions of Dhoni?
That Dhoni had a free, almost fearless, approach. In fact, often, he was ruthless while batting. I found that quite refreshing. His approach has, of course, changed in more recent years.
Why? Because of more responsibility or because Dhoni's become more mature?
Probably a mix of both. The answer rests with Dhoni himself.
What did you make of Dhoni as ’keeper?
Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to Dhoni’s work behind the stumps... One was made to focus on his batting.
You yourself came from Chandigarh, which isn’t a metro... Dhoni not only put Ranchi on the cricketing map, but opened the gates for others from non-established centres to play for India...
I’d disagree a little... Javagal Srinath is from Mysore and Harbhajan Singh from Jalandhar. Neither has the status of a big city. The trend, therefore, had started before Dhoni. It’s just that he gave it a boost.
Talent isn’t confined to the metros...
Why should it? The bigger the spread the better.
Is the mindset of cricketers from non-established centres much different from those hailing from the big cities?
I can speak for myself... I was more of a natural, not a bookish cricketer. The ones from the big cities tend to be more pucca, more technical. We grew up playing tennis-ball cricket and came to the big stage with that approach.
The ideal approach?
Good question... Natural instincts count, even outside sport. I suppose you need to combine natural flair with technical correctness. Natural ability is great, but that doesn’t mean you won’t or can’t learn from others. You should, for one never stops learning.
To get back to Dhoni... How do you assess his role in Indian cricket?
Dhoni’s been India’s finest ’keeper-batsman... Purely as a ’keeper, technically, Syed Kirmani was better. But we haven’t had a better ’keeper-batsman.
Well, Dhoni has injected so much of self-belief, in ODIs and in T20Is. He’s taught his players to win from close situations... Sometimes, though, it gets too close in ODIs... Look at the way Dhoni himself batted in the 2011 World Cup final.
Self-belief is a massive component in a sportsman’s armoury...
Unless you have self-belief, challenges will remain challenges. Self-belief helps you up your game, move towards the next level.
But Dhoni’s record in Test cricket, particularly overseas, is anything but hot. It’s something which takes some of the shine off his CV...
The statistics do show that... In Test cricket, your approach has to be different. Dhoni, perhaps, is convinced that the same approach will do... The impression I get is that he wants his bowlers to bowl the way he wants them to, instead of giving them the freedom to bowl the way they’d like to.
As captain, what’s special about Dhoni?
Overall, Dhoni’s been very successful, so I’m not going to criticise him. However, there are times when he has to shed the ‘Captain Cool’ label and be pro-active on the field... Not seem to be unaffected. The younger players, remember, look up to the captain when the going gets rough.
So, what’s your advice to Dhoni?
Dhoni’s played enough cricket... This is his 90th Test and he’s played 250 ODIs as well... It’s not for me to advise. Obviously, he has certain qualities which have worked well for him.
What’s the future you see for Dhoni, given that he features in all three formats?
Everything depends on Dhoni, on his fitness... He’s 33... I’m sure he’ll be around till such time he retains the passion for cricket.
The one Dhoni innings which comes to mind instantly...
In Test cricket, it’s Dhoni’s (career-best) 224 at the Chepauk, against Australia, almost two years ago... In ODIs, I’d pick his 91 not out at the Wankhede, against Sri Lanka, in the World Cup final.
(At the Chepauk, Dhoni took control from 196 for four. His innings went a long way towards forcing an eight-wicket win. At the Wankhede, Dhoni came out on 114 for three (22nd over) and powered India to victory with 10 balls remaining.)
Finally... Your take on the ongoing third Test, in Melbourne?
It’s tough going, but we’ve made a spirited reply... To save the Test, we’ll have to bat very well on Sunday. Match mein to hain, lekin mushkil raasta hai.