Love him, hate him, but you can’t ignore him: The name is MS Dhoni
London: India needed 52 off 31 balls in the semi-final against New Zealand. 44.5 overs: Lockie Ferguson to MS Dhoni: A rising delivery on the fourth stump and Dhoni shoulders arms and lets it go through to the keeper.
In the media centre balcony at the Old Trafford, I had one of the stenographers involved with the ICC for company. Having earlier admitted in one of our conversations that he doesn't follow cricket religiously, he couldn't understand the rationale behind the 'well left' from Dhoni with the asking rate beyond 10 an over.
"Welcome to Dhoni zone," was my response. "What's that?" he shot back and I explained: "Jadeja had already hit a six in this over and India had got 10 runs in the over. It was Jadeja who was using the long handle, managing at least a boundary an over. Doesn't it make sense for Jadeja to face the next over? Maybe, Dhoni wants to let Jadeja take the strike. A boundary in the first three balls of an over puts the pressure on the bowler. We have seen this from Dhoni 'N' number of times in the IPL."
With 20 overs remaining in India’s chase, India had to get 148 runs with five wickets in hand and Hardik Pandya went back to the hut soon after.
Legendary Waqar Younis, who was at the media center, said: "Dhoni is the man. If he bats 50 overs, India are there." Everyone out there knew it was going to be Dhoni Vs New Zealand. Ravindra Jadeja went crazy in the middle but if someone had to give that knockout punch at the very end, then it had to be Dhoni.
Rohit Sharma with the 45 jersey on was India's biggest cheerleader as Jadeja and Dhoni began to hunt down the target. 12th man Mohammed Shami was ready with different Dhoni bats, physio Patrick Farhart, who bid goodbye to the Indian team post the semi-final defeat, rushed to attend Jadeja in between overs.
Everyone knew the game was with Dhoni and most importantly India had started to gain momentum. The same old CSK strategy - wait for that 'one bowler' - possibly Jimmy Neesham. Kane Williamson too knew it. Jadeja gone but it was always going to be Dhoni.
The stenographer too felt: "I can sense the crowd right behind Dhoni and India, I think India are going to pull this one. This guy...Dhoni...is something.”
Dhoni brought the upper cut out of nowhere and sent it beyond deep cover fielder in the first ball of the 49th over. That was the 'Dhoni zone' I had mentioned.
Remember Ian Bishop's "Magnificent Mahendra", 2012 & Clint McKay in Australia, the Axar Patel last over, numerous game-changing 16th and 17th overs in IPL... 25 off 10 balls was that proper 'Dhoni zone'. It was a matter of one more maximum in the 49th over and Dhoni wanted the strike badly.
A slight hesitation as he turned back and Martin Guptill's World Cup 2019 moment arrived. Bullseye! The flashing red light of the zing bails signalled the end of Dhoni and India's World Cup dreams.
It's been almost three days since that moment of pain for Dhoni, Team India and Indian cricket fans. Should Dhoni retire? Should Dhoni march on? #ThankYouMS #MSDForever. A lot has been said and written about on Dhoni by netizens across social media and by various experts.
Over the past three weeks of my UK sojourn, having travelled to many places and having interacted with fans from various countries, I was surprised at some of the responses I received when the 'Dhoni discussion' came about at random places.
Post-West Indies' crushing defeat against India, a few fans from Jamaica told me: "All West Indies need is Mahi in the middle-order. Legend. Genius." (Read Sir Viv Richards accent)
Then I happened to meet a few Bangladesh fans! The 'Dhoni demon' of 2016 World T20 is still haunting those Bangladesh fans. "Rahim is the best keeper batsman in the world. Dhoni is only second to him," a few Bangladesh fans roared. "I respect Dhoni but we love Mushi," said another. There was more anger and frustration in that tone, I could sense it and it’s quite natural for die-hard Bangla cricket fans.
While everyone was curious to understand how Dhoni manages to be ice cool under pressure or find out the answer for ‘Dhoni retirement’ question, former Zimbabwe skipper and keeper Tatenda Taibu, now a coach at the Formby Cricket Club in Liverpool, wanted to know how “Dhoni doesn't have his hands together but he manages to catch the ball cleanly.”
Taibu reminded everyone about keeper Dhoni, who has been part of thousands of memes across social media for his lightning-fast hands behind the stumps.
Ahead of Day 1 of the India-NZ semi-final, I had finally managed to find some good South Indian food in a restaurant in Manchester. There were about at least 40-50 Indian fans. One gang was discussing the possibilities of Boult & Co rattling the Indian top order and should Dhoni bat at No 4 if that was the case!
During my bus ride to Birmingham for the Australia-England semifinal, I came across two England fans, possibly of the Graham Gooch era given their moustache, rooting for their home side. After conveying their commiserations to the Indian team, one guy said: “Dhoni’s wicket was the key, isn’t it? I have heard that he has done it many times for Chennai Super Kings.”
Australia were deep in trouble against England and during the lunch break, I met a die-hard Aussie cricket fan with a clean-fit baggy green cap and a 1999 WC retro Aussie jersey outside Birmingham.
“Sorry mate about the India result. Dhoni’s wicket…Australia needed someone like Dhoni…I wanted an India-Australia final but it’s unlikely,” he said. I wasn’t sure about the context in which he said but still the Dhoni reference came up randomly.
How can I miss the Pakistan cricket fans? I didn’t have the opportunity to interact with them but I noticed a few of them, may be settled in England, from a distance after England thrashed Australia. “India and Dhoni have lost the World Cup (thumbs up sign posing for a group pic). England are going to be champions,” they celebrated England’s win and again I wasn’t sure why they brought Dhoni into the equation.
And there was this 'Super Dhoni fan' from Pakistan - Chacha - who was wearing a Dhoni t-shirt for every single India match at the World Cup! There was CSK Super fan Saravanan from Chennai who was rooting for his 'Thala' in the UK. For them, east or west, Dhoni is always the best.
Kane Williamson is questioned about Dhoni, Steve Waugh is asked about Dhoni’s retirement, Rohit Sharma smashes a record-breaking 5th World Cup hundred and still a few fans outside the ground chant “Dhoni, Dhoni…”
Every time a cameraman somehow manages to find a group of Indian fans ahead of an India game, it’s invariably “Dhoni, Dhoni…or India, Indiaaaaa”.
I, myself, experienced it when I went Live on Sportskeeda Cricket Facebook page on the ‘Dhoni retirement’ question. Some abused me for asking the question, some felt Dhoni’s time is up, maybe the 2020 World T20 and many want him to leave on a high. There’s is no need to explain the affection showered by Chennai to ‘adopted son’ Dhoni! The atmosphere at Chepauk when Dhoni steps on to the field in yellow can only be felt and can't be expressed in words.
On one side you have fans going crazy over Captain Cool, best finisher, the man who handed Sachin Tendulkar a fitting farewell, 2011 World Cup, three ICC titles, lightning fast hands, Dhoni Review System, street smart cricketer, the face of Indian cricket, CSK’s ‘Thala’ Dhoni and on the other hand you have people with the knife saying time up Dhoni, finisher finished, past his prime, what’s his role, need to leave before it’s too late.
Even after Virat Kohli has taken over captaincy across all formats and it’s been almost five years since Dhoni quit Test cricket, the latter has always been the talking point and has always been in lead fonts of newspapers. When was the last time did Dhoni give an exclusive interview to a journalist? Hard to remember.
Amidst all, it’s quite staggering to see the manner in which Dhoni has carried himself on and off the field as a global ambassador of the game. Last December, Dhoni, said of N Srinivasan: “You can love him, you can hate him, but you can't ignore him. Majority of us definitely fall into the first category.”
From whatever we have seen over the last 15 years, the same words apply to Dhoni as well. “Love him, hate him, but you can’t ignore him.” The name is MS Dhoni.
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