Having seen a young Mahendra Singh Dhoni from close quarters even before he went on to play for India A, former Zimbabwe cricket captain Tatenda Taibu said that the Indian cricketer’s mental toughness separated him from his contemporaries.
Taibu was the wicketkeeper-captain of the Zimbabwe Select XI side when Sairaj Bahutule-led India A side came visiting in 2004. That squad had both Dinesh Karthik and MS Dhoni, with the latter donning the gloves.
“The first time I saw Dhoni, if I’m to be honest — he had come with the India A side — I thought Karthik was more natural than Dhoni. And still in keeping, Karthik is more natural… even in batting he is more natural,” Taibu said in an interview on Youtube titled Inside Out with Baggs.
Taibu then went on to explain Dhoni’s odd yet impactful technique.
“Now, the way he (Dhoni) keeps, his hands are not always together like you always have the little fingers together… when he catches his hands are always not like that. But he always manages to catch the ball and whip the bails in a flash with a very different technique… a very different and odd technique,” Taibu added.
While Dhoni did not do anything special with the bat in Zimbabwe, in the subsequent tour of Kenya he smashed two centuries and a fifty in the triangular series that also featured Pakistan A. Dhoni was India A’s top run-getter in that series, amassing 362 runs in six innings at an average of 72.40.
Taibu said that from those two tours, it was evident that Dhoni was special adding the Jharkand lad’s batting technique was different too but it was about his hand-eye coordination and mental toughness.
“Same thing about his batting…different technique, but great hand-eye co-ordination. But I don’t think it’s only his hand-eye coordination (for batting that worked) but probably his mental toughness.
“Normally if you don’t look the part, so to speak, it’s easy for coaches to just put you aside. But Dhoni backs that (his unique style) up with statistics,” Taibu added.
India A side’s tour of the African continent (Zimbabwe and Kenya) in 2004 brought Dhoni into the international limelight and had a role to play in catapulting the former India captain into the senior side.
Speaking on Star Sports’ chat show ‘Cricket Connected’, Karthik also spoke about the relaxed nature of Dhoni from that India A tour.
“In 2003 or 2004 (2004) when I went for my first A tour with him, he was pretty much an easy-going, chill, relaxed character and that’s what you see as well. The only difference is that there’s a lot more white hair now, but inside, he’s pretty calm. I haven’t seen him get angry that often or I haven’t seen him express his anger explicitly outside too often. So, he’s been pretty much the same,” Karthik said.
For Dhoni too, that tour was memorable. He had said in 2016: “Zimbabwe is a special place for me. The reason being, before playing for India, this was the tour (in 2004) which really gave me the chance to go into the limelight and get a chance to play for India. So it is a very special place for me. I have always enjoyed coming here.”
About Australian great Adam Gilchrist, the Zimbabwean said he was a natural batsman but not a natural ‘keeper and used to put in more time on his wicket-keeping.
“Gilchrist was a natural batsman and not a natural wicket-keeper. He always used to put more time on his keeping than his batting because his batting was very natural. Hitting the ball was quite easy for him,” he added
Taibu, who burst onto the scene at a young age and also led his team, said he had learnt a lot from the international stars like Indian greats Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid among others, especially about training.