The secret behind Dhoni’s “Captain Cool” tag

Being the only captain to have collected all the ICC tournament trophies, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the former Indian Cricket team captain, never failed to astonish people with his lightening fast stumping skills and his leadership qualities. His quick running between the wickets, his passion for the game, and his ability to lead the team under pressure make him an ambassador for the game of cricket.

Even though Dhoni has all these vibrant traits, one thing that separates him from the rest of the cricket players is his ability to stay calm and composed without reacting too much, even in pressure situations. This made his fans around the world passionately call him as “Captain Cool.”

Have you ever wondered how he was able to keep his cool? Is it possible for all of us to have such an attitude? Let’s explore.

Dhoni – Is he Emotional Intelligent?

I recently saw an old interview with Dhoni. The way he answered the questions revealed one thing to me – that he’s emotionally intelligent.

Most of us are familiar with IQ (Intelligence Quotient). It’s a measure of a person’s cognitive abilities. That is, the ability to solve problems, reasoning abilities, etc. A person’s intellect can be assessed by knowing his/her IQ score. An average person’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ) ranges from 90 to 110.

Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), on the other hand, determines a person’s ability to recognize and understand his/her emotions and that of others and manage them based on the environment to attain his/her goal.

When asked by the interviewer whether he’s really that cool and what goes in his head, Dhoni answered,

I feel equally frustrated and angry at times. I feel disappointed. But what is important is that none of these are constructive. What needs to be done right now is more important than any of these emotions. When I get into the thinking of what needs to be done, what’s the next thing I can plan, who’s the individual I can use, and once I get into it, I am controlling my emotions in a much better way.

Dhoni didn’t give room for any of these emotions to rule his day. This ability to manage one’s emotions for constructive purposes is known as Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ). When you’re able to label your emotions and manage them effectively, you’ll be better equipped to deal with many situations in life. This is what ultimately makes a leader.

You can witness the full interview here.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

On-field, there have been several occasions when Dhoni’s high EQ can be witnessed. In this post, I’ve compiled a few ones for you. But before that, we need to have a basic understanding of emotional intelligence.

Having high EQ helps in having good relationships with your peers, family, and friends. It also leverages your leadership abilities. It moves you towards your goals and many such benefits.

The five components of emotional intelligence

Daniel Goleman is known for his research on emotional intelligence. He has even written numerous books on the same. He proposes these five components of emotional intelligence, which help us in understanding this concept better.

  1. Self-awareness – being aware of your emotions and feelings and the kind of impact they can have on others.
  2. Self-regulation – managing your emotions towards constructive purposes and not acting out of impulse.
  3. Internal Motivation – having a passion for what you’re doing without needing any external motivation.
  4. Empathy – being able to understand others’ emotions and feelings.
  5. Social Skill – treating people with respect and politeness.

As you can see, Dhoni easily passes in each of the above. This model proposed by Daniel Goleman is called the mixed model. There’re also other models proposed by other eminent researchers in this field. But this one explains EQ better than others.

Now that you’re aware of what emotional intelligence is, let’s see how Dhoni used his EQ to make better decisions. This helps in deepening your understanding of this concept.

Dhoni’s Emotional Intelligence on display

The trickiest part of emotional intelligence is that it operates from backstage. We can rarely see it on display. But we can hear it from someone who has been in close association with the emotionally intelligent people.

Scenario 1 : Dhoni’s trust on Ashwin

It was the 2010 Champions’ League T20 tournament. Dhoni’s IPL franchise CSK took over Victoria Bushrangers. The match ended in a tie which prompted the match officials to go for a Super over. In the super over, each team will be given one over to bat and the team which scores the highest runs in the Super over will be declared the winner.

Ashwin, out of his enthusiasm, asked his captain Dhoni to give him the ball to bowl the Super Over. Dhoni, without any hesitation, gave him the ball! But Ashwin was pounded for 23 runs in the Super over. CSK went on to lose the match, not being able to chase the target.

The next match was a critical one and CSK was to face the Warriors. CSK batted first and had to defend a very meager target of 136. Do you know to whom Dhoni gave the first over to bowl? It was to Ashwin. In an interview with Harsha Bhogle for Cricbuzz, Ashwin remarked,

If I was a captain, I wouldn’t have thrown the ball at a youngster who has just done what he did the last night. But MS gave the ball to me that night.

This incident is enough to show how Dhoni shows his respect for real talents. He knew that Ashwin had the capability and he had the urge to perform at his best after a mistake in the last match. He respected Ashwin’s feelings and this is what empathy is.

CSK went on to win not only this match against the Warriors, but they also clinched the Champions’ League T20 title that year. How’s that for emotional intelligence? A raw example of how emotional intelligence can make you successful.

Scenario 2: Dhoni’s epic reply to Flintoff

In the 2005-06 England’s tour of India, Flintoff bowled a bouncer that hit Mahi on the back of his helmet. It was a nasty blow that demanded medical attention. Dhoni didn’t react like he was in pain. Neither did he made opposing reactions against Flintoff. After recovering from the blow, Dhoni was all set to face the next delivery from Flintoff. It was again a bouncer. But this time, Dhoni pulled it beautifully for a boundary.

The blow he received the previous ball demanded an outrageous reaction from Dhoni. But our cool customer had different ideas. You cannot say that he didn’t feel the rush in his adrenaline after such a thunderous blow. But he managed it in a better way and used it for a constructive purpose.

Scenario 3: Dhoni’s way of making cricket a true gentlemen’s game

Cricket is popularly known as the Gentlemen’s game. To add luster to it, Dhoni did a wonderful thing in the 2nd test match of the 2011 India’s tour of England series.

Eoin Morgan played a leg glance that the ball almost reached the fence. The fielder who went after the ball, dived and pulled the ball inside. But his reaction was as if it was a boundary. On seeing the fielder react that way, batsmen assumed that it was a boundary and gave up running. But no legal boundary signal was given by the umpires.

Ian Bell, the non-striker batsman, was supposed to be in the striker’s end when the ball arrived there. The bails were taken off. But Bell and Morgan were moving towards the pavilion for their tea-break. The umpires remained on the field and referred it to the third umpire. Upon seeing the replay, the third umpire confirmed that it was Out.

But after the tea-break, Ian Bell came out to bat. How? Because Dhoni decided to withdraw his appeal and confirmed the same with the umpires. The Umpires then called Ian Bell back to the crease.

The crowd at the Trend Bridge raised their sound in favor of the Indian captain MSD. They were all happy to see this wonderful gesture from the team India. What an amazing gesture it was! These are some of the things that only emotionally intelligent people can do. They respect people. Dhoni knew that Bell was unaware of what happened. So he withdrew the appeal.

Summing Up

These incidents that I’ve mentioned above were only a few among many instances where Dhoni displayed his emotional intelligence. Sunil Gavaskar mentioned in a column for a daily named Mid-Day that Dhoni prefers to sit with the local TV crew members in the flight, though he gets to sit in the business class. This component of emotional intelligence is called empathy. Virat Kohli, the present Indian team captain, now follows Dhoni. He too gave up his business class seat when the team traveled from Adelaide to Perth during the Border-Gavaskar series in 2018-19. Not only did Dhoni manage and direct his emotions, but he also showed empathy and socialized with people. That’s why Dhoni is a complete emotional intelligent package. And of course, that’s why people love him abundantly.


I wanted to publish this post on the occasion of Dhoni’s birthday. But due to some minor health issues, I wasn’t able to do so.

I read a lot about Emotional Intelligence from the Wikipedia page for the same. But the works of Daniel Goleman on this topic are immense and should be appreciated.

Thanks to Cricbuzz for this interview with Ashwin. Thanks to Harsha Bhogle who hosted the interview.

A heart-ful thanks to YouTube channel Cricket Cloud for compiling the incident involving Andrew Flintoff.

Finally, thanks to millions of Dhoni fans like me, who inspire to do something for this legend.

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