India bank on 'Captain Cool' Dhoni for encore

LONDON: Mahendra Singh Dhoni will relive a pathbreaking moment in his fairytale career when he leads India's defence of the World Twenty20 title in England.

Dhoni marshalled India to a stunning triumph in the inaugural World T20 in South Africa in 2007, his first assignment as captain after just two years as a regular team member. He has not looked back since, rising from a lowly and poorly paid railway employee in his home town Ranchi in eastern India to become one of the country's most celebrated sportsmen.

Some call him India's lucky mascot, others marvel at his unflappable composure that has earned the dashing batsman-wicketkeeper the nickname of 'Captain Cool', but no one doubts his Midas touch. The supremely confident Dhoni has won five of his seven Tests as captain, with the remaining two ending in draws.

He also has 31 wins in 50 one-day matches at the helm and and six victories in 12 Twenty20 internationals, securing Dhoni the status of cult figure in the cricket-obsessed country. Lucrative sponsorship deals have followed and he is the highest-paid home star in the Indian Premier League with a 1.5-million-dollar-a-year contract with the Chennai Super Kings.

"He is a very impressive captain who knows how to get the best out of his team," said former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, who handed Dhoni the top job in 2007 as chairman of the selection committee.

World batting record holder Sachin Tendulkar, now in his 20th year in international cricket, is another Dhoni fan. "I am extremely happy and delighted at the way he has conducted himself," said Tendulkar. "He is a balanced guy and is always on his toes all the time. Before he was made the captain, standing in the slips I interacted with him, and he picked up a lot of things which clearly indicated that he has a sharp brain. His approach is pretty clear and not complicated."

Dhoni led India to its first Test series win in New Zealand in 42 years in March, following impressive home wins against world champions Australia and England earlier in the season.

But he himself admits that retaining the World Twenty20 title will be a tough act to follow. "It will be silly to name favourites in a 40-over game, things can change so quickly," he said. "It all depends on how one plays on a particular day. The secret is to play to your potential and try to be as consistent as possible. Hopefully we will do that in England."

India are drawn with Bangladesh and Ireland in the preliminary round, but face the prospect of battling Australia, South Africa and England in the Super Eights.