MSD: A champion of the art of impossible
Cricket fans in Australia had the privilege of seeing Mahendra Singh Dhoni bat in a Test match for the last time. When he walked away from the field at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on December 30, 2014, unbeaten in the company of R. Ashwin as India forced a draw, Dhoni was kind of gearing up for a hard decision he had to make.
There was little to suggest that this was going to be Dhoni’s farewell Test. India may have lost the chance to win its first ever series in Australia by the time the Melbourne Test concluded, and it obviously must have weighed on his mind when he took the decision to hand over the captaincy to Virat Kohli.
It was part of his introvert nature that none knew Dhoni’s plans. It is said he had taken his teammates into confidence, but the world of cricket woke up to a shocker when Kohli led India in the last Test of that series at Sydney. Various reasons were attributed to Dhoni’s departure from Test cricket, but there was no doubt that at heart he had Indian cricket’s interest.
Ashwin recently shared his experience of that historic day at MCG. “I remember when he retired from Test cricket in 2014, I was batting with him to save the match. But once we lost, he simply picked up a stump and walked off saying he’s done. It was quite an emotional moment for him. Ishant Sharma, Suresh Raina and I were sitting in his room that evening. He was still wearing his Test match jersey through the entire night and he shed a few tears as well,” Ashwin revealed in a video post recently.
To quit Test cricket at 33 was indeed shocking. Not that Dhoni had become a burden on the team. He was the most shining icon in the dressing room, especially for the youngsters who had come from small towns.
When he made his Test debut at Chennai against Sri Lanka in 2005, it was a natural progression for Dhoni. He was the cynosure of all with his unique brand of attacking cricket, innovative strokeplay, and a positive approach to the game. His presence at the crease meant entertainment. You watched cricket, Test or ODI, for Dhoni. True, the team had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, but it had in Dhoni a man who played on his terms.
Fearless and ambitious made for a lethal combination for Dhoni.
He was the motivation for those who dreamt big without access to facilities that the city boys enjoyed.
He decimated bowling attacks with amazing ease and there was science in his strokeplays – using the pace and bounce of the ball to direct his shots. Often his brute power sent the ball into orbit. Such was his menacing presence in the middle that often the bowlers lost their composure even as Dhoni left his seat in the dressing room to walk to the crease with a swagger.
I had the fortune to watch him grow in cricket, many interactions that gave an insight into his intense reading of the game.
His confidence was unmatched. Nothing, absolutely nothing, perturbed him. Can’t remember a moment when Dhoni’s face reflected any signs of pressure or worry. The sight of Dhoni promoting himself in the order and finishing the 2011 World Cup chase with a magnificent flourish at the Wankhede Stadium is one of the most memorable images of the game.
He brought a kind of revolution to the way cricket was played in India. You were allowed to chase your dreams even from the remotest corners of the country. For a man who did not even possess a personal kit when playing competitive cricket for Bihar, to be featured as one of the richest sportspersons in the world was some achievement.
The quality I liked most in Dhoni was the fact that he was never overawed by the opposition, and not at all by the camera. See the ease with which he delivers his dialogues in the commercials that he stars in. So natural! Don’t be surprised if someday he dons the role of a principal actor in a cricket movie or assumes the role of an active politician.
Dhoni’s love for the uniform, his passion to serve briefly in Jammu and Kashmir, his many gifts to the country on the cricket field, make him one of the most precious and celebrated achievers of India. Statistics will never do justice to this cricketer who played the game in his own way.
He has set enviable benchmarks hard to emulate. Only greats can think of what Dhoni has recorded in history books. Critics observe he is a fantastic case study, an inspiring chapter in school books. An intensely private person, Dhoni is a man who shines in every Indian household. He may have walked away from the game, at what I think was a year late, but he will continue to entertain us through the nostalgic videos on social media, the long haired Dhoni, the one with a crew cut, the ever-smiling champion. Cricket won’t be same because there won’t be another Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Mr Vijay Lokapally has been a sports journalist for four decades. He writes for The Hindu and Sportstar.