MS Dhoni - The dark knight of Indian cricket
So, Dhoni has retired from Test cricket. Many said that he was way past his prime in the longer format, that this is good for the team, and that he was never much of a Test player. Well, the same number of people said the same thing about Virender Sehwag. Let’s leave it at that perhaps, for now.
The fact is that Dhoni has retired. He was there for what seemed like an era. He played in ODIs, T20 Internationals, Tests, IPL, Champions League, World Cups, Champions Trophy and what not. If nothing else, he was there to beat Sri Lanka to a pulp with his bare bat.
Now we will see a little less of him. Probably this is for good, for him.
Rise of a boy from Ranchi
His rise in international cricket was heroic, almost unbelievable, especially in the mid-2000s when breaking into the Indian team was very difficult, if not impossible. A certain Amol Muzumdar knows it. From a ticket collector to an international player within a period of 6 years is one hell of a progress. He was on a roll, and he made it count.
Then came the T20 world cup in South Africa. India won it under his captaincy.
The journey after that, till the 2011 World Cup win, is mesmerizing. Even more mesmerizing was the match-winning inning in the final.
The World Cup. Top Test ranking. Everything seemed to fall in place until his nemesis arrived: overseas Test Tours – England 4-0, Australia 4-0.
The downslide begins
His legendary batting weapons failed. The bowling was the worst ever. Dhoni was found out, too. The confidence wasn’t there. India could not close in on any possible away Test wins after that, be it in South Africa or in New Zealand. And they did not even attempt one in West Indies.
We love to see a hero rise from amongst us mortals. But deep inside, we love more to see that hero fall, and fail. That makes him more like one of us, and we just love it.
He does not deserve as much praise as he gets for taking India to the top of the Test rankings nor does he deserve as much flak as he gets for the Test failures that followed. During India’s unbeaten run of 14 Tests, a run that started just before he was trusted with captaincy, he wasn’t even part of 3 of them. India just could not lose a Test then, even when he was not there as a player or as a captain.
The fickle nature of fans
But that’s how we are. By nature, we are more considerate towards geniuses. We own their failure the same way we own their success. It’s not an exaggeration when people say that every century scored by Sachin Tendulkar felt like it was their own. As for Dhoni, we embraced his success but could not forgive his failures, for he was a case of an ordinary talent achieving extraordinary feats.
2007 WC win was ours.
2011 WC win was ours.
2013 Champion Trophy win was ours.
Away Test wins in West Indies and New Zealand were ours.
Even the very recent Ishant Sharma-led-short-ball-barraged-Lord’s-win was ours.
But we refused to accept all those overseas Test drubbings as our own. Those belonged to Dhoni and him alone. Dhoni endured it, took it and stayed.
We hated him for it, but that's the point of being a captain of a cricket crazy nation: from being a hero, you could become an outcast in no time. He made his choice, the right choice: the choice to be still there; to be still trying to turn things around until the next generation can take it over.
At the beginning of his career, he was just a freak, at least he looked like one. We needed him to step up in 2007-08 when Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble gave up captaincy and Test cricket respectively.
We needed him to calm the things down. To hold the team together. To lead the legends. To mentor the new ones. To march forward.
But when we did not need him anymore, we were hell bent on casting him out. You see, our support, our fanfare, it's a bad joke. First sign of failure, and he was left high and dry.
The most remarkable feature of Dhoni’s tenure was the ability to put things in perspective. He knew this was just a sport. 2007 WC failure had taught him that. He treated all that was dished at him the same way. Nothing more. Nothing less.
He seemed to not care about winning. Losing, even more. That’s what gave him the edge. That calm face. That was his mask. And that is why he could carry the nerves of steel for so long. That is why he was truly incorruptible.
He didn’t wait to see himself become a villain
Maybe, just maybe, he saw his team well off without him under a more aggressive captain at Adelaide recently. Maybe, this Australia tour was the time when he found out what Dhoni can’t do: he can’t be in a team when he feels he is not needed. Today, all of us get to say "we told you so”.
They say, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”.
I`m glad he didn’t wait.
He did not wait for 5000 Test runs.
He did not wait for a 100 Tests.
He did not wait for a fairytale send-off.
He waited only for that impulse that prompted him to let go. “Letting go”, the toughest and the greatest testimony of your love.
Perhaps he knew he was the leader India deserved, but not the one it needs right now. So, Dhoni has retired from Test cricket. Just like that, he has gone into oblivion. Boom.
Now, we will speculate that he was removed forcefully. We will link his untimely retirement to the BCCI or, to be more specific, N Srinivasan’s court case. We will stoop to think that he left because he wasn’t game for playing under someone else. We will curse him to have left the series midway.
You know why we do that? Not just because we didn’t get to know something we think we have the right to know but because he can take it. Because he's not our hero anymore. Because he's a silent crusader, a watchful leader. He is a Dark Knight!
What Dhoni has taught us
We were so busy wanting him to go; we never cared to think who would replace him? You can replace a position, but it is hard to replace a legend. And now that he is gone, one cannot help but wonder whether this team can survive without him.
The ODI World Cup is coming. This might be his last act altogether at the international level. Dhoni is never short of surprises. Nevertheless, the stage is set for the rise of the legend for one more time, probably for the last time. Will he rise to the occasion?
The heart says, “He must! He must!”.
The mind says, “It does not matter, for he has done his job”. The job of instilling the belief in players from every remote part of this country that it doesn’t matter how small your town is, it doesn’t matter if you have a godfather or whether you belong to a prestigious sports club, if you have it in you, there is no stopping you.
There are so many ways of immortality in sports. Stats are one; this is another.
With the mask that he wore, the mask of silence, of unperturbed personality, he taught us the best way to play a sport and the best way to be an ambassador of it. He taught us that if you make yourself more than just an individual, you become something else entirely. A legend. A symbol.
A symbol that he had to be to imply that anybody could be Dhoni and Dhoni could be anybody.
Cricket has been a revelation for the war-torn Afghanistan. They love Dhoni, idolise him. Not a lot of people know what it feels like to be devastated to your core. Afghans do. I mean the world understands when they see the damage; everybody does, for a while.
Then they expect the devastated people to move on. So, after a point of time, they stop understanding. At such times, people could do with a symbol like Dhoni. They can relate to him. They see him and think they can do it too. At such times, one cannot help but think that the mantle has been passed. Successfully!
Afghanistan have qualified for the 2015 World Cup. Cricket will go on. It will rise. It will continue to inspire generations and countries. We will see more legends like Mahendra Singh Dhoni.