Did India's Obsession with Dhoni the Superhero cost the World Cup?
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect Sportskeeda's views on the same.)
MS Dhoni is not just a superstar cricketer. His abilities were more like a superhero - hitting sixes off yorker length deliveries, finishing games from near impossible situations or maintaining surreal calm through all of the greatness he was achieving. Dhoni seemed the panacea to all things dire in Indian cricket. So when those superpowers started depleting rapidly, did we all turn a blind eye to it? Did India obsess with MSD's historical ability for way beyond its expiry date? More importantly, did it cost them the big prize?
To say MS Dhoni was primarily responsible for India’s ouster at the Cricket World Cup 2019 would be downright foolish. However, team composition plays a crucial role in a team's success. India’s ODI team has had a soft belly for a while. It was to hurt us in tricky games and slippery situations such as the semifinal vs New Zealand, and it did. MSD or rather the role we gave him might have been central to it all. Ever since Dhoni landed on the scene, it always gave a great balance to the side. He was two players in one. Unfortunately, as his hitting skills waned over the past few years, the team's balance shifted and that made the team vulnerable. He finished the World Cup more as a wicketkeeper than as a batsman.
And the selectors allowed this to happen. India is a country obsessed with personality over performance. Which is why MSK Prasad, the chief selector, who added dimensions to a Rayudu’s exit, could not tinker with Dhoni. The wicket keeper's role in limited overs cricket has long been a dual responsibility role with batting contributions being a key essential. However, despite Dhoni's diminishing batting returns the selectors barely tried out another wicket keeping option in the past few years. We probably wrote Dhoni's name on the team sheet before anyone else. He was hardly kept away from the ODI games which would have allowed us to test another keeper batsman for an extended period. Dinesh Karthik or Rishabh Pant could have been able replacements but never got a run long enough to cast doubts on Dhoni's position.
If you were to believe Dhoni’s biopic, he is a man who sets high standards for his team. How well did he define those for his own batting in the past few years? Going by the template and the results of almost every innings of his in recent memory, he certainly fell short of those. You would have thought that Dhoni would have himself stepped away but he remained a mortal and continued. Even at a time in the World Cup semifinal when he could have actually stepped up and shepherded the team from 5/3, he batted at 7. If his series-defining performances in Australia earlier this year were any indication, no.4 would have most suited Dhoni in every game, leave alone the semi-final. One wonders what made the team management take the call to bat him lower? Dhoni once famously made the call to bat himself at 5 and won us a World Cup final. India needed that most in the semifinals against a spirited New Zealand..
I doubt he will be heavily criticised. After all, he scored 50 in a chase in which only one other player scored better than him and almost got us home, but deep down, all of us will know that he probably played safe when the situation demanded him to front up. Dhoni will end his career as undoubtedly one of India’s and World cricket’s finest white ball cricketers ever. It’s a pity that when he eventually hangs up his boots, we would all say “why not” instead of “why now”. His greatest exploits would be those from several years back and not from recent memory.
Sachin Tendulkar is possibly the most high profile retirement we have witnessed. We know his skills were on the decline and it took him more effort to get to a hundred in his closing year; he was still one of the best in the country even then. Dhoni’s skills, on the other hand, have been on the decline for a while now, for more than a couple of years definitely. And it has shown few glimpses of revival. We still persisted believing the Dhoni of old existed, so did he and that might have just cost us a World Cup we truly deserved to win.
Also read – World cup most wickets