Former England spinner Monty Panesar played four Test series against India and Dhoni, who recently announced his retirement from international cricket, was a part of all those series. England players were unaware of Dhoni’s strategies, but Monty could understand every single word that Dhoni was saying in Hindi as part of his instructions.
“Dhoni was a calm guy. He wouldn’t say much. I think he was a great judge of nonverbal communication. He was just a great reader of things. You go and say something, he won’t reply but be ready when he will come to bat or set a field for you,” Monty told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
“I remember his tips to the bowlers, specially spinners from behind the stumps. ‘ Abhi thodi wide ball daalo. Abhi thoda seedha stumps pe rakho. Ye cross line khelne waala hai, seedha daalo. Ye deep mid-wicket pe chakka marega, thoda wide rakhna‘ (Bowl a little wide now. Now bowl straight on the stumps. He is going to play across the line, so bowl straight. He will try for a six over mid wicket, so bowl a little wide)”, the former England spinner recalled.
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“I can speak hindi and Punjabi to a great extent. MSD thought I didn’t understand. I heard everything, but I also acted like MSD, as if I didn’t hear anything. I heard and (then) acted as if I didn’t hear anything. But I knew everything,” Monty, whose father migrated from Punjab to Luton in England in 1979, told TimesofIndia.com.
“And believe me, he (Dhoni) has done this a number of times and got wickets. And that’s what I love about MS Dhoni and I am proud that I have played against him,” the left arm spinner, who played 50 Tests and 26 ODIs for England added.
MONTY’S FAVOURITE DHONI MOMENT
Monty made his debut against India in 2006 in Nagpur and went on to play the 2007 series (home), 2008 series (away) and 2012 series (away).
Dhoni was included in the eleven under Dravid’s captaincy in the 2006 (home) and 2007 (away) series against England but he captained India against England in the 2008 and 2012 series.
Speaking about his favourite Dhoni moment, Monty said: “My favorite moment with Dhoni was in Mumbai when I missed his catch. It landed 10 meters on my right, went through the sun and I completely misjudged it. And then two balls later, I caught him. So, that’s cricket for you. One minute you’re zero, next minute you are a hero. He (Dhoni) will always be a hero for the nation.”
“It was his calmness and his strategic thinking that took him forward. I think he became a much better player once he had the leadership that allowed him to not focus on himself as much. Leadership made him think about the team rather than himself much,” the 38 year old Monty, who last played for England in a Test series vs Australia in 2013 said.
“I think (when) Dhoni came into (the) reckoning was actually his hundred against Pakistan, when he was pulling Shoaib Akhtar for fours and sixes. We all were sitting and wondering – ‘Oh, how is he doing that?’ And then I remember bowling to him in Kolkata where he hit me for a six out of nowhere. It just went miles. Dhoni’s six hitting ability is almost 20 meters further than the normal batsman. I think I always found MSD very calm, collected and he always seemed like life was going at a slow pace for him. It was like nothing was bothering him. It was his calm demeanor that was his strength. Not a lot of cricketers have this quality, but he had it throughout his whole career. I think that’s what makes him such a great, great leader,” Monty further told TimesofIndia.com.
DHONI – A GREAT MIND READER
Dhoni’s calm and composed demeanor in pressure-cooker situations is no secret. Apart from this super quality, his ability to read a match situation, a batsman’s body language and turning the match on its head in the death overs have been witnessed and applauded over the years.
“He (Dhoni) was very good at reading other people, but people couldn’t read him. That was another strength. You will never be able to know what is going on in Dhoni’s mind when he is at the crease and India need 15 runs per over in the last three overs. And he gets it. How does he do it? That’s MSD’s secret. It was the captaincy that made it harder to read him, because he was able to focus his energy on the team, on the other players, how to get the best out of so many different individuals, which meant that the attention wasn’t on him. It was on the team and his players,” Monty said.
‘DHONI IS NOT LOOKING FOR PLAUDITS OR A MASSIVE FAREWELL’
Dhoni’s sudden retirement from Tests during the Australia tour in 2014 raised many eyebrows. He quit his limited-overs captaincy in January 2017 to hand over the reigns to Virat Kohli. But his sudden retirement from international cricket with a message on his Instagram account, left his fans stunned.
“Thanks a lot for your love and support throughout. From 1929 hours consider me as Retired” – and that’s how the man, who is the only captain to have won all three ICC trophies, brought the curtain down on his international career.
“He’s a man who does what he wants to. Whenever he felt like retiring, he retired. He’s not that type of person who is looking for plaudits or a massive farewell. He is the kind of player who will come, deliver and vanish. He doesn’t need any attention. He just put his retirement news on social media and let the media and the cricket fans make the noise. His understanding of people and situations is what makes him a special human being,” Monty said.
“MSD has shown to the world that you don’t need to have the best education or you don’t need to be from privileged backgrounds to become one of the greatest sportsmen. What a brilliant man manager he is. That all comes from life experiences. So, I think Dhoni is a great example to India and the rest of the world,” the former England spinner said.
MONTY’S TAKE ON DHONI’S RETIREMENT TIMING
Monty believes that it was the COVID-19 pandemic that forced Dhoni to retire from international cricket.
Dhoni last played in India colours in the 2019 ICC World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. India were chasing 240 to win to enter the final. Dhoni scored 50 runs off 72 balls, but failed to take the Men in Blue across the finish line. India crashed out of the mega event after suffering an 18-run defeat against the Kiwis in Manchester.
“I think the Covid 19 pandemic has probably made the decision for him. I think he was probably looking to have a successful IPL season but this COVID-19 came in between. I am sure he wanted to get himself into the squad for the T20 World Cup which has been postponed. Since everything has been delayed, he’s probably thinking – ‘I don’t think I’ve got a chance now to get back into the squad, so it’s the best bet to retire’. So, that’s the reason he delayed it. He was trying to see if he could get back and play one final World Cup before hanging up his boots. Since the World Cup is now postponed to next year, it’s just a bit too long to wait around and he must have thought it’s the perfect time to retire,” Monty signed off.