Mahendra Singh Dhoni has had an extended personal high, particularly as a batsman, in limited-overs cricket. As a leader though, he has seen a downturn, punctuated by the odd win, for the past year and a half. It's a run that might have worn out many men, but Dhoni was firm that at no point had he doubted himself.
"I never question my ability," said Dhoni on Thursday (January 10), the eve of India's first One-Day International against England at Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium in Khanderi, Rajkot. "That's something weaker persons do - before others question you as an individual, you start questioning yourself. Self-belief is very important. And in a team sport, it's important that everybody keeps believing in themselves."
It's a belief that will be tested afresh as India embark on their first fresh series of the year, with five ODIs against England. Dhoni has faced a growing clamour for a change in leadership in the Indian team, and if results continue to go against India, there's no telling which way the wind might blow.
On the eve of an important series, Dhoni chose to be cryptic on the issue. "I can't be thinking about that now. Let's wait and watch when we get some time off," said Dhoni.
Dhoni's calm demeanour has often given the impression that criticism is like water off a duck's back to him. "It (criticism) is not something that's new to us," said Dhoni. "As Indian cricketers, you know you are supposed to do well. The moment you don't do well - as an individual or as a team - you know you'll get a lot of criticism. But it's the same when you do well, where you get a lot of appreciation."
One of the things that have perhaps helped Dhoni keep his head about him is his ability to focus on the present, a fact he stressed on. "It's important to not plan for the coming series, but concentrate on the present ones. The one you're playing at that moment is the most important one," he said. "If you plan too much ahead, then it can cause confusion at times. It's very important to stay in the present."
There is a little matter of personal interest for Dhoni in the series too, with the third ODI scheduled in Ranchi, his hometown, on January 19. Dhoni said that going home for an international match was a "big thing" for him. "When I came (into international cricket) it was difficult to make people understand which place or city I was from, but once we have an international venue, people outside will recognise the city quite easily," said Dhoni with a smile. "I think it will be very exciting."
"As of now, tomorrow's game is the most important, but it will be a different feeling for me, to go and play in Ranchi after a long time," said Dhoni. "It's quite similar to the first first-class game I played in my city. But as I said, it's important to stay in the present. Let's take care of this game first and then we'll go to Kochi. Ranchi will happen, nothing really can stop it."