Former Indian captain MS Dhoni called time on a stellar international career on August 15. With a montage video on his official Instagram profile, Dhoni told the fans to “consider me as retired” from international cricket. Dhoni’s journey with the Indian team began in 2004 and three years later, he began on a journey which ended with his name being counted among the greatest captains of all-time. Former Indian bowler Rudra Pratap Singh was among the 15-member side which was the part of Dhoni’s first-ever assignment as an international captain – in the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa.
In an exclusive conversation with India TV, RP Singh opened up on the sudden transformation of the wicketkeeper-batsman from a player to being a captain of the side.
“We obviously saw his real quality in leadership during that tournament,” Singh said. “But even as a leader, he used to behave like any other player. He helped us with all the cricketing issues, whether it be in terms of the field we wanted, or the ball we wanted to bowl. There was no hesitation – we talked to him freely, he also had his own inputs and we obviously saw the result in that tournament.
“He never really behaved like a captain with us, though. He cared for everyone in the team which helped the cause because our singular motive was to play good and win.”
Singh was one of the players who began their international careers around the same time as MS Dhoni. While the wicketkeeper-batsman made his India debut in December 2004, the bowler arrived at the international circuit nine months later. As both shared the dressing room in their formative years, did Singh realise then about Dhoni’s potential?
“No, I didn’t realise that much in 2005. It is difficult to judge such things during the early days. But during the 2007 T20 World Cup, I did realise that he has a different way of looking at matches and he will have a big impact in the cricket world,” said the former speedster, who appeared for India in 14 Tests, 58 ODIs and 10 T20Is.
A young team led by MS Dhoni was selected to go for the T20 World Cup in South Africa.— BCCI (@BCCI) August 16, 2020
India won the inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup on 24th September, 2007 and the rest as they say is history.#ThankYouMSDhoni pic.twitter.com/INkSOlAJOP
Often known for his unpredictable moves during captaincy, Dhoni played an unintentionally key role in making Joginder Sharma a household name during the 2007 WT20. Sharma, a rather inexperienced bowler, was tasked by Dhoni to bowl the last over in the semifinal and final against Australia and Pakistan respectively. RP Singh, who bowled a terrific 19th over in the game against Australia himself, has now revealed that it was far from being one of those spontaneous moves one associates with ‘Captain Cool’.
Instead, he had it all planned with his bowlers way before the semifinal even began.
“It was a pre-planned move. We made this strategy that the 17th, 18th and 19th overs should be bowled by those who are performing well in the game and those who could be reliable. If we bowled well in these overs, we would leave a good amount of runs to be defended in the final one, so even two or three good deliveries in the 20th over would secure a win,” said the former Indian bowler.
“So it was planned that the important overs were 18th and 19th, and not 20th. That is why, throughout the tournament I bowled the 19th over.”
Apart from his obvious exploits with the ball, the one time RP Singh made an important contribution with the bat was during the 2009 tour to the West Indies. With India reeling at 82/8, Singh joined MS Dhoni in a bid to steer the side to a respectable score. The duo eventually built a 101-run partnership before Singh was dismissed.
Dhoni has often emerged successful in such roles when the Indian batting order collapsed. According to Singh, Dhoni never tries to over-complicate things in the middle and instead, would just pass on the necessary instructions to his partner.
“We had lost eight wickets in that game. He just gave me a couple of instructions on footwork and trying to take singles as much as possible, but make sure you don’t take risk. When MS’s number would come, he would hit big hits. So we added 100 runs playing the same way, I added some 20-25 runs to it and the rest were all scored by him,” recalled the former Indian bowler.
“So that has been his mindset. Sometimes, against a particular bowler in good form, he would guide me from the non-striker’s end on feet movement and bat position. He would insist on keeping the eye on the ball at all the times and be on the defence.”
With Dhoni no longer in the international setup, the only tournament where he will be seen (for now) is the Indian Premier League, which begins on September 19. However, Singh believes Dhoni will turn up for the tournament in a similar way he has for all the previous editions.
“There hasn’t been cricket for some while and it goes for all the players. But Dhoni, like all the other tournaments before, has been very good in the IPL so I’m not expecting anything different this time around,” believes Singh.
In January earlier this year, RP Singh was one of the three members selected in the Cricket Advisory Committee, which was in-charge for the selection of the BCCI selection-panel. How was his experience? “I’m enjoying this role. I can’t say about the future but for now, but it’s a good role to be in. I, Madan ji and Sulakshna ji were aimed at providing a good selection unit for the Indian team. It’s a very big position and a very challenging one to be in,” said the crickter-turned-commentator.
Recently, Singh also partnered with a sports-based application SportsUno, which aims to provide technological hand-holding to sports businesses in India. Talking about his partnership, Singh said, “I met with Varun (Rao) and Akshay (Sapra) and decided to invest in SportsUno. It’s a sport-based application and manages everything on the go – right from the grounds you may want to book to various facilities in the academy you may want to avail.
“Technology is reaching grassroots slowly so such an application would also help the youngsters track their performance and their growth. Similarly, often one has to go out to book grounds and training facilities but this application would provide all the information on the phone itself. It also provides online courses with fitness instructors and records one’s progress, so it’s an all-in-one app.”