Dhoni and Stoicism.
“Dhoni finishes off in style! A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lift the world cup! After 28 years!” screamed an elated Ravi Shastri from the commentary box as India finally did it. Two months of extreme pressure on the Indian cricket team to win the highly prestigious ODI World Cup played on home soil, and it was the Indian captain who got the team over the finishing line. In style. And yet being calm to the core at the same time. As always. I have always wondered and tried to analyse how he remains calm amidst such chaos.
This is not a post about India’s amazing journey in the 2011 World Cup or about the religion of cricket in India in general nor is it about what cricket means to me. It’s about the philosophy of Stoicism and how that is used by one of the greatest modern day cricketers, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
A common misconception about Dhoni is that he seems to be an emotionally numb cricketer, or he doesn’t care about the fans’ appreciations or he’s just isn’t as enthusiastic on the field as an Indian captain should be. In fact, there could be a bunch of people somewhere in India who think that he’s an extremely selfish cricketer just because he doesn’t acknowledge the crowd when they applaud him on reaching a personal milestone! And I understand where this is coming from- he actually doesn’t celebrate his personal milestones on the field that much and even a closely fought victory doesn’t have him pumping with emotions as much as it does an average cricketer.
If you have been following Indian cricket as ardently and passionately as I have, you might have noticed a few things that Dhoni constantly does:
1. Whenever India wins a tournament, at the trophy presentation, he will often disappear into the background soon after collecting the trophy.
2. In post-match presentation interviews, he will always have a logical opinion about the game, regardless of whether India won the game or not.
3. In pre-match interviews, often times you will hear him speak about things that are his in control (like batting, wicket keeping, setting the field and playing to your strength) and things that are out of his control (like opposition playing remarkable well, wrong decisions by umpires, rain etc). He will often emphasize on how important it is to focus on the former rather than the latter.
4. He will be the least enthusiastic person after a hard fought victory, even if he played a major part!
All of this is what makes him a Stoic. Let me explain how.
In 2007, out of nowhere, at the age of 26, Dhoni was given the responsibility of leading India in the T20 World Cup. And this was just a few months after a terrible and disastrous ODI World Cup in the West indies. The outrage and the anger among the cricket fans in India was at an all-time high.
In my opinion, ever since he was given that job, he has developed an ability to have an extreme focus on the things that he can control and avoid giving mental space to the things not in his control. This is why he does not react to applause by the crowd. He believes in the process of getting runs, i.e. taking action. Because that’s the only thing in his control. Whether the crowd will applaud him or criticize him, is out of his control. So why give up his precious mental space to that?
This brings me to the key point of this post. The ability of differentiating things into what is in his control vs what’s not in his control is the basic principle of Stoicism. And Dhoni has done this consistently over the last 10–12 years. Even though, for the last 2 years, he has been a shadow of his former self performance-wise, he still quite vividly showcases the characteristics of a pure Stoic.
Having only recently discovered the philosophy of Stoicism , I felt the need to have a stoic role model who I could look up to . I didn’t have to look any further than this Indian cricket legend. The more I look back and analyse the decisions he has made in his career, the more I’m convinced that those decisions have Stoicism written all over them. And for all these reasons , MS Dhoni is not just a cricket legend, to me he is also a modern day Stoic great.