Former India coach Greg Chappell said current captain MS Dhoni is a natural leader and his reading of the game was incredible even during his early days with the Indian team. Chappell also said Dhoni was assured and confident in his own ability, and added that he knew that he didn't have any doubts he belonged at the international level.
Dhoni made his ODI debut for India in 2004 but made his Test debut in 2005, while Chappell was coach of the team.
Chappell, who is currently Cricket Australia' Talent Manager and chairman of Australia's youth selection panel, also pointed out Dhoni's ability to read deliveries' lengths well. He quoted an example to highlight his point that Dhoni was more than just a front-foot hitter in his early days with the national team. "One day I saw him batting against Ajit Agarkar on a very slow wicket at the Chinnaswamy Stadium and he was very comfortable on the front foot. Ajit has a very good bouncer and I thought I would like to see how he responds to that. So Ajit bowled him the perfect bouncer and the next thing you know he had hit the ball to the top of the roof. So I said 'Ok he reads length well'," Chappell told Indian Express in an interview.
Chappell, who coached India from 2005 to 2007, told the daily that Dhoni had a calmness and an inner strength which wasn't something he had seen a lot of in other cricketers, adding that he wasn't cocky but there wasn't any false modesty either.
"Both in India and Australia you have a lot of players who are afraid to stand up because they feel they might be thought of as being ahead of themselves or setting themselves up for failure. He had no concerns about that. He was supremely confident in his own ability. He had some work to do with his wicketkeeping but you could see he had the basics. I saw him as far more than a one-day cricketer. I could see him as a Test cricketer. And I could certainly see him as a captain," Chappell said.
Chappell also stated that he could see Dhoni as an India captain even when he first broke into the national team because of his unique ability to connect with the seniors and youngsters in the team. "His ability in the Indian dressing room to move between the seniors and the juniors was unique. There was nobody else I saw that could compare. Even some of the seniors struggled with other seniors. Not just physical strength but also an emotional strength ... a spiritual strength. He knew who he was. He didn't have any doubts about his ability to play at that level."
Chappell shared an interesting anecdote regarding Dhoni that took place in a camp at Bangalore during his early days as India coach. The legendary Australia batsman said he was amazed by Dhoni's ability to express his thoughts and experiences well.
"I wanted the guys to talk about themselves. I had come in knowing some of the senior players because I had seen them play and I had met many of them before. But I wanted to know about their life and cricket. And it was an amazing story of where he had come from and how he had learned his cricket playing on the streets with his friends and at each level how he had to prove himself again because each time he came in he was the new boy. He talked very well about how each of those steps had given him something. Some confidence, some experience, some knowledge."
Chappell praised Dhoni for having the confidence in his unique batting style. "Dhoni's method was and is unique. Not many people play like him, but he has immense confidence in it. And that's all that really matters."
In another recent interview to DNA, Chappell had said that Dhoni's phenomenal success must be credited to playing cricket in gullies and parks. "Your guys play a lot of cricket, not necessarily organised cricket but in gullies and parks. It’s a very important part of learning. In unstructured cricket, you play without the supervision of parents, coaches or elders. Sometimes you play the older guys. The thing is that kids start learning to compete at an early age. The best example is MS Dhoni. This guy is so unique."
He also stated that had Dhoni gone to an academy, he would have been a very different player.
"Had he gone to an academy at an early age, he would have been a very different player. I think we love a lot of those natural environments in Australia. But a lot of our young cricketers are exposed to academy-style cricket very early. I am not convinced that’s the best way to learn."
Chappell also said that his differences with Sourav Ganguly, who was deposed as captain during his tenure were not personal. "I rather liked Sourav and I admired him as a cricketer but at that point he probably wasn't the best person to be in that position," he told Indian Express. He added that contrary to the media's portrayal, it was never him against Ganguly. "Sections of the media wanted to portray that it was me against Sourav. But it was nothing to do with that. It was purely to do with the cricket."
Chappell rued that his explanations for some of his decisions as India coach proved to be counterproductive as people used those against him.
Despite his tumultuous tenure, however, Chappell said he looks back at his time in India with great fondness. "Most of my experiences here were very good. There were parts that I could have done without. But that happens. When I look back it was overwhelmingly positive."