When MS Dhoni strode to the pitch at the fall of India's third wicket against Sri Lanka on Saturday, an audible gasp rippled through the nation.
Everyone wanted to see the imperious and in-form Yuvraj Singh at that critical stage of the World Cup final. They had their reasons.
As a batsman, Dhoni had looked unconvincing in every game. It wasn't just the number of runs he had scored - 22, 7 and 25 in the three previous matches-but the unimpressive manner in which he scored them.
Worse, his surprise preference for the potentially erratic paceman Sreesanth over off-spinner R Ashwin had backfired and further firmed up the anti-Dhoni mood. The knives were out.
But in the next 30 overs, as he played the most valuable knock of his career that helped India lift the Cup again after 28 years, Dhoni showed why he is The One.
He nudged and nibbled at first, eschewing every risk. Then slowly he took charge. Dhoni walked into the field as a beleagured cricketer; he left as a superman.
Lodged in that Cup-winning innings are the clues to the defining features of his captaincy, the ingredients that have made him perhaps India's greatest captain ever. The 29-year-old raja of Ranchi demonstrated that small-town boys make great CEOs too.
Promoting himself bravely, Dhoni put himself directly in the firing line. Like a team leader who commands by example, the Indian skipper bet on himself.
During the entire innings, Dhoni displayed a Zen master-like calm under extreme pressure. He was in control: of himself, the surroundings and the game.
His colleagues in the pavilion looked more anxious. He shepherded Gambhir too. No mid-pitch madness with him around and the asking rate was always kept to manageable levels. He was the coolest guy at Wankhede after hitting the match-winning six.
Dhoni's reign as a captain has been marked by India's remarkable ascendancy in world cricket. Under him, India won the first T20 World Cup in 2007 and became the No 1 Test playing nation for the first time. Under his leadership, the Chennai Super Kings have won both the IPL and the IPL Champions league. He has no more worlds to conquer.
Is he India's greatest captain ever? Statistics suggest that. In ODIs, his 62% success rate is higher than everyone else.
His World Cup record, 83% wins, is better than everyone else. So is his Test record. But then captaincy is much more than just outcomes.
Indian cricket has seen dozens of astute captains. Most don't have the statistics to illustrate their point. By all accounts, though, MAK Pataudi was a shrewd tactician and Ajit Wadekar has a couple of historic wins to his credit. Mohammed Azharuddin too has a bag of victories under his belt though he was anything but inspiring as leader.
In the end, it boils down to a battle between Sourav Ganguly and Dhoni. Ganguly took over the reins at a time when Team India was racked by match-fixing allegations.
A great talent spotter, he created a pool of players - Sehwag, Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Zaheer, indeed Dhoni himself - who form the core of the new Men in Blue. He took India to the 2003 World Cup final and defeated Steve Waugh's all-conquering unit at home, held them abroad. He gave them self-belief.
Dhoni has inherited a far more stable team. But the fact remains that Dhoni has taken Team India and its self-belief to a whole new level. Ganguly's team still had remnants of feudalism; Dhoni's unit is totally modern, fully 21st century. Under him, the team regularly snatches victories from the jaws of defeat. Whenever the chips are down, someone comes up with something special. Dhoni is remarkably focused, forthright and result-oriented.
They say he is not a good strategist. But, of late, Dhoni seems to be improving with every game. On Saturday, his fielding placements choked the Lankan openers. His bowling changes -- for instance, bringing on to Harbhajan to counter Umar Akmal's big hitting against Pakistan -- was spot on.
Perhaps his real test will come when the golden greats - Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman - depart from the scene. And, when Zaheer Khan loses his sting.
It looks pretty certain though that Dhoni will find a way. Throughout his career, the son of a former pump operator has adapted remarkably to change. The long locks vanished against Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf's advice. The short hair was less flamboyant but made him look more responsible. As a batsman, he swapped adventure for responsibility. The strike rate went down and so did his number of supporters. But the changed image helped when his name cropped up for captaincy.
Throughout the Cup, Dhoni kept playing his signature helicopter shot in a television commercial. Those annoyed with the India skipper's poor run of form often wondered aloud if he would ever play the shot in the championship.
The truth is, he didn't. Not a single time in the 295 balls he faced. Not even when he smote paceman NLTC Perera high into the stands to ensure India's triumph. Nobody knows the huge margin between art and reality better than captain MS Dhoni.