At 36, MS Dhoni is on the path to rediscover himself
Sports are avenues for countries to compete on a grand stage and prove that they can dominate their opponent physically or mentally and in some cases both. Hence the emotions that accompany the sport are inevitable.
India has long been a country where cricket has been that sport which hogs the major limelight and brings with it euphoria and outcries of rage. When a player puts up a performance that lands the team on the right side of the results, the adulation overpowers appreciation and acknowledgement that he fairly deserves.
On the other hand, the player might also be subject to a lot of unwarranted criticism as well when the results go awry. But the beauty of any sport lies in the very fact that the lines of containment are blurred and emotions are given a license to go for a free ride.
Hence it would be reasonable to believe that Indian cricketers would also mirror the emotions on the field. Fist pumps and roars were interlaced with crestfallen looks and forlorn walks.
One fine day Indian cricket woke up to find an unassuming young lad from Ranchi who would look at cricket as just a game or at least give us an impression that he did so. More often than not, he would snatch victories from the jaws of defeat and sport just a benign smile.
Heart-shattering losses were also dealt the same treatment. His methods were strikingly different from the madness of the Indian crowds. Yet he carved an identity for himself in the chapters of Indian cricket which would never be overshadowed. That is the single biggest achievement of MS Dhoni, one of the most respected figures in world cricket.
The new avatar
Of late though, the respect and adulation have morphed into censure and suspicion on many occasions. The reason underlying though is very simple. As all greats would have it, Father Time has started to pose sterner tests for the Indian great and the results have not been too encouraging thus far.
So when Dhoni turns 36 today, a sense of calm will underpin the moment rather than celebrations. The hallmark of greatness lies in being peerless with your accomplishments and on instances that warrant comparison, the only suitable match being the great himself in another age and day. So all those trademark Dhoni moments where he would ridicule defeat with his uber cool presence have aligned themselves to gauge the Dhoni of today who looks a shadow of himself.
Has giving up the captaincy reduced his relevance in the team? Certainly not. That is because most of Dhoni’s magic has been weaved with a bat or a pair of gloves.
It is a pity that his supreme captaincy has shrouded his credentials as a pure player. As a batsman and a keeper, Dhoni’s numbers are breathtaking. While inadequacies remained in his technique, he has made up for it with rich temperament. His average above 80 and strike rate kissing 100 at number three for India must speak volumes about his abilities as a batsman.
When Dhoni first strode out to the middle with his bat tucked under his arms at Chittagong, he was just a player. And so was he when he thrashed Pakistan in Vizag.
As his stature grew with every defining knock, he, however, retained his most precious asset, his temperament. His successes have largely stemmed from a monk-like equanimity than his thundering swings of the bat.
The sight of Dhoni standing calm yet firm before facing a crucial delivery would send down shivers for the opposition. His calmness and temperament would often come to the fore during adverse times. When these very assets are being seemingly unravelled by the sands of time, questions about his relevance are bound to sting harder.
If Dhoni could once again summon his calmness and temperament, he might well be able to put some of those questions to rest. Even then, we might not be witness to the Dhoni of old who would weave his own magic with alarming consistency. Yet Dhoni might still be relevant and vital for the team’s fortunes.
At number four, the veteran might well offer stability for Team India and allow the finishers to flourish. Dhoni’s running between the wickets and ability to hold one end up might well be the cushion for the top order to play fluently and for the lower order to go big in the final overs. His safe game play in the middle could also avert any potential collapse in case the top order fails.
We must remember that ‘the finisher’ Dhoni might still reside somewhere in him and start dictating terms.
With age, Dhoni has almost become a mentor for the prodigies donning the national colours. His fitness routines and work ethic will definitely serve as an inspiration for the younger players.
The glitz and glamour of Indian cricket can bring in a lot of distractions too. The presence of a figure like Dhoni would help the youngsters in the dressing room to not get swayed too much by them.
Dhoni’s experience and assurance will help Kohli take informed and firm decisions on and off the field. As a shrewd wicketkeeper, he is an asset to have in any team. Coupled with his tactical acumen, he has the best seat in the house to keep the captain updated about the flow of the game.
Mahi’s (as he is fondly known) days as captain might be over, but he will always be the leader of men.
Happy birthday Dhoni!! Wishing you many more match winning innings!!