MS Dhoni: India's all-in-one 50-overs superstar
Ahead of MS Dhoni's 300th ODI, a tribute to one of India's greatest 50-overs cricketers.
In its 43-year-old ODI history, India have produced various great players at different positions. Great opening batsmen. Exceptional limited-overs players, each of whom is capable of winning a game on his own terms.
What they couldn't unearth for a long time was a great wicket-keeper, who also won games on his own.
That search ended when in 2004, a rambo came into the side.
MS Dhoni made his debut in December of that year and within his maiden year at the international level, showed that he was here to stay.
Blistering hundreds against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the space of six months meant that the doors on others likes of Dinesh Karthik almost looked shut.
Since then, in a career spanning just over 12-years, Dhoni has become India's all-in-one superstar in 50-over cricket. Wicket-keeper. Captain. Finisher. It's almost like having three players in one.
Keeping on Indian pitches can sometimes be the toughest part of the job, with variable bounce playing its part in ensuring the man with the gloves in hand remains on the edge.
To do that with the likes of Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and others and to have flashesque hands while whipping the bails off in stumpings against such quality bowlers requires great skill, which he still continues to possess.
The stumping dismissal in 50-overs cricket has almost become the Dhoni trademark, as he collects the ball and within the blink of an eye, flicks the bails off, much to the astonishment of all watching.
Ask any batsman and he would tell you that the best place to bat in 50-over cricket is at the top of the order.
Dhoni, for a long time, had the option of coming higher up the order, but chose not to.
Instead, he became a titan at finishing games. At keeping calm. At helping India pull off incredible wins from situations that looked dead and gone.
There were times when the average Indian spectator did not understand his style of batting, but with Dhoni, it was always about identifying the right moment and seizing it.
When the equation got tight, his plan was to stay until the end and take his side home and hence if you look at his record, you will observe a higher number of not outs than other batsmen.
Normally, when players spend a substantial amount of time batting below the Top 5, you would expect their stats to be half as good as the rest.
With Dhoni, it is the opposite.
299 matches. 9608 runs. Average almost 52. You would kill to have those numbers as a cricketer.
Only Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid have more runs than him in 50-over cricket for India.
There is not much about his captaincy record that fans already don't know about.
Limited-overs cricket, ever since its inception in 1971, has seen three great captains. Clive Lloyd, Ricky Ponting and Dhoni.
Each in their own term as leaders enjoyed a tremendous amount of success.
But Dhoni scaled every height in ODI cricket, without the one element, which the other two leaders had at their disposal - a competent bowling attack capable of bowling out teams on most days.
In the 2011 World Cup, he depended on Zaheer Khan to get the job done and he stood up. Harbhajan Singh did his role as the spin bowling lead, commendably, while Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel proved to be excellent back-ups.
In the 2013 Champions Trophy win, the scenario was totally different as Dhoni put faith in a young unit, comprising of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma and the trio stood up and made their captain and team proud.
In neither cases did Dhoni possess a Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Lance Gibbs type bowlers that Lloyd had nor did he have the quality of Glenn McGrath, the aggression of Brett Lee that Ponting had.
He had a set of skillful bowlers, and when the batsmen racked up the runs, he found a formula, which helped them deliver at different stages of the innings.
Hence for that reason, for me, Dhoni will rank higher than the other two. He made the most of the resources he had at his disposal and ensured the job was done.
It does seem likely that he would be the man with the gloves on hand at the 2019 World Cup, even though it is some distance away. However, with Dhoni, it's virtually impossible to predict anything.
One thing can be said with clarity that he is now at the twilight of his cricketing career.
He may no longer be the best batsman in this side, but in an exuberant unit, led by a man who relishes the prospect of winning all games, when the opportunity arises, a statesmanlike figure like Dhoni would serve the boys well.
He still remains alert and astute as ever, yelling out words of encouragement to bowlers regularly from behind the stumps and India would do well to use him for the time he is available.
Since quitting Tests in 2014, Dhoni has played no role in any capacity in the longer format.
It remains to be seen if the same happens when he leaves the game altogether.
However, that discussion is for another day. Thursday, when he plays his 300th ODI, is a day to celebrate and look back at the career of India's all-in-one superstar.