MS Dhoni: A man of contradictions
MS Dhoni is a man of contradictions.
He came from one of the smallest cricketing states in India, yet he became India's most popular cricketer. He has a laughable technique, yet he scored nearly 5000 runs. He was never really a great Test player, yet he played 90 matches.
He was never really a great Test captain, yet he won more than anyone else. He was never really a great keeper, yet he is India's most successful. He never really looked good while batting, yet when he got going, neither did the bowlers.
He is probably the most marketable cricketer in the world, yet he is also probably the most hated. People claim him to be selfish, yet he is never seen at the centre of any victory photos. He has the most number of victories for any Indian captain outside the subcontinent against the top 6 nations, yet he also has the most number of losses.
He is the only captain to take India to No.1 in the world in Tests, yet he captained them to No. 6 too. He was named the captain of Wisden's Test dream team in 2009, yet 2 years later he was called the worst.
He is blamed for his terrible overseas record as captain, yet he is the 4th most successful home captain in history after Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh. He is constantly placed second to Sourav Ganguly, yet he has more overall wins, more wins at home, more wins away against top 6, more runs, better average and same number of centuries as Ganguly as captain.
By announcing his retirement at the ripe old age of 33, he became one of the earliest voluntary retirees from India since Ravi Shastri, yet people blame him for overstaying. They say he is a man obsessed with numbers, yet he retired just 10 short of a 100 Tests, just a 100 short of 5000 runs and 6 short of 300 dismissals.
Dhoni passed the baton
As he retired from Tests, he didn't exactly leave behind a legacy. He didn’t leave behind a world-beating side, but what he is leaving behind is one of the most exciting young teams in the world. A team in which each and every player debuted under him, a team whose average age is just a shade above 25, a team that would go on to win many more games and make India proud for years to come.
So if someone asks me, what is his contribution to Indian cricket, I wouldn't say it’s taking India to No.1, I wouldn't say it's the Lord’s victory, or the Test series victory in NZ, or the win in South Africa, or beating Australia 4-0. Instead, I would say that his contribution is in giving birth to a new generation of Indian cricketers.
He took up the challenge of passing the baton from the old to the new, he was the makeshift bridge that got no credit for getting people across but a lot of flak for being a bit shaky. He acted as the interim, he handed out debuts to more players than any Indian captain before him. He tried, he tested, he failed, he tried again.
In the course of this trial, he lost, he won a few, he lost more, and more and more and then some more. Then, he unearthed a few quality gems who could take the baton from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. When he realized that they are ready to stand on their on own, he quietly stepped aside. Captain Cool handed the team to Captain Fire.
Dhoni’s real contribution
Ten years down the line when we sing praises for the likes of Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, I hope someone thinks of Dhoni.
I hope they thank him for persisting with Vijay when everyone wanted him dropped. I hope they thank him for giving Virat one more shot in Australia in 2011 when everyone said he was too young for Tests. I hope they thank him for pushing Pujara to No. 3, a place he made his own shortly thereafter.
As everyone sits and dissects every inch of his numerical records to try and find faults, I hope they thank him for at least some of the good he did. For he may not have been your favourite player, he may not have been your favourite captain, but he did do some good.
For a man who people accuse of being an attention seeker, he retired in the quietest way possible – no press conference, no pre-announcement, no farewell match, no celebration. Just a quiet dressing room chat, a call to the board and a letter to the media. He left the exact same way he played the game, he left on his own terms.
I thank you MS Dhoni, for the good, the bad and the ugly. You were never perfect and you weren't exactly special, but you were certainly one of a kind.