During India’s tour of England in 2011, captain MS Dhoni’s body language often betrayed his exasperation with the fielding efforts of their legendary middle order.
Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. Great players all, but in the autumn of their careers none were too fleet-footed in the field.
Dhoni would get a far-away look in his eyes, and stare into the middle distance, as ones turned into twos to Tendulkar at fine leg or Dravid would drop another in the slips.
Although the captain, the reputations of those stellar cricketers precluded a full-blooded skipper’s rant. Dhoni had to bite his tongue.
Not now – the 2013 incarnation of India is definitely Dhoni’s team.
The old guard have been replaced by younger, fitter models. Players such as Virat Kohli rank among the very best fielders in world cricket.
Dhoni does not accept mediocrity in the field now, and two incidents during the Champions Trophy final highlighted that ‘no excuse’ culture.
In a rain-truncated final on Sunday, India set England a target of 130 in 20 overs. Every run was precious, and Dhoni made sure his players realised it.
In the 13th over, Eoin Morgan took a single to Dinesh Karthik at mid on. It prompted an angry explosion from Dhoni from behind the stumps, and an awkward apology from Karthik.
Then in the 17th over, Ravi Bopara took a two to Ishant Sharma at mid off. Sharma is a tall man, and he couldn’t bend the body quick enough to stop the second run.
Dhoni immediately and angrily moved the 6’5" bowler to a less pivotal position.
India fielding coach Trevor Penney afterwards praised his “athletes, always looking to get more fielding in on the practice ground.” The India team in the field is unrecognisable from the 2011 side.
Not too many of the side from two years ago would be seen putting in the extra hours for fielding practice.
And it is those one percent factors that proved the difference between the sides at Edgbaston on Sunday.
Dhoni also enhanced his reputation as a captain. He again got the big decisions right.
He quickly realised that the spinning ball was causing problems for England, and brought on the part-time spin of Suresh Raina.
India’s two frontline spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin ended with four wickets for 39 in their eight overs, with Raina also getting through three overs for 19.
England’s James Tredwell, in comparison, only took 1 for 25 in his four overs.
Dhoni’s most courageous decision was to bring back Ishant Sharma for the 18th over, rather than play out the three final overs with spin.
Sharma had gone for a wicketless 25 from his previous three overs, but took the wickets of Morgan and Bopara in successive deliveries to change the course of the game.
Sharma said afterwards he was inspired by the faith his captain had shown in him.
"I was quite nervous, things were not going my way but I hold my nerve. I've done it times in the past so maybe that's why he [Dhoni] thought I could do it,” he said.
Dhoni, who has now led India to the World Cup, the World Twenty20 and the Champions Trophy, felt that his bowlers dealt with the pressure superbly.
“I said: ‘We are the number one ranked team - let's play like that',” he said.
“I knew the two overs of powerplay were crucial, and I wanted to make them slog off the spinners.
"I said 'God is not coming to save us, if you want to win the trophy we have to fight it out'.
“They all handled the pressure really well. In international cricket people talk about technique, but it's the ones that deal with the pressure."
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- Ishant Sharma
- MS Dhoni
- Sachin Tendulkar