The last mile for the enigma named MS Dhoni
With a muscular body, long hair and unorthodox batting technique, Mahendra Singh Dhoni went straight into our hearts with that knock of 148 against Pakistan at Visakhapatnam.
It has been 14 years since.
He has managed to enthrall the Indian cricket fans, nay cricket fans everywhere, with his exceptional batting skills, brilliant stumping manoeuvres and street smart captaincy. And his calmness on the field and humility off-field have earned him fans worldwide.
At a time when the Indian cricket team was using Rahul Dravid as a makeshift wicket-keeper to not disturb the batting balance, Dhoni came along like a breath of fresh air. His batting heroics against Pakistan and Sri Lanka (183*) made his place in the team permanent. There has been no looking back since.
The "Dhoni" era truly started after the unfortunate exit of the Indian team from the 2007 Cricket World Cup in West Indies. After the humongous disappointment, the BCCI took the decision of excluding senior players for the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. It paid rich dividends as India became champions by defeating Pakistan in the final.
Soon after, in 2008, Dhoni was made the captain of the Test team too. Under his leadership, India made it to the No: 1 position in the Test rankings in 2009. And of course, in 2011, he led the team to the much adored World Cup victory by beating Sri Lanka in the final.
Dhoni's IPL career with CSK is also a part of his legendary folklore as he has led them to three IPL Championships.
It was his flamboyant batting skills which made everyone sit up and take notice. I still remember the headline in a newspaper after his famous knock of 183 against Sri Lanka - 'Dhoni Dhamaka'.
Initially, his batting style resembled a young Virender Sehwag - dashing and showing no respect to the bowler. Later on, as he took on the captaincy and was saddled with the responsibility of filling the huge void left by Dravid's retirement, he became the team's anchoring batsman.
It was his job to take control of the situation in dire circumstances and to finish off the match with composure. It was is this period that he was given the title of 'The Finisher' by the media.
Unfortunately, there have been a few blemishes in his career too. He never succeeded in his quest to get a famous Test series victory in tough foreign conditions like England, South Africa or Australia. His team almost always got comprehensively beaten, and the critics pointed out how his defensive tactics were at fault.
Dhoni's batting in foreign conditions, especially outside Asia, was also a huge concern for the team. Till date, he hasn't managed to score a hundred outside Asia.
The match-fixing allegations against his IPL team CSK, and the subsequent ban, were also major talking points of his career.
Everything said and done though, Dhoni has been a wonderful servant to Indian cricket over the years. And it is only fitting that he gets a proper send-off.
In all probability, the World Cup 2019 in June will be his farewell tournament as a member of the Indian cricket team.
There have been concerns over his slow batting style in recent months. But I believe he is exactly what the Indian team needs now. His unparalleled experience can be an asset to any team; he can play the role of the anchor batsman to perfection.
Moreover, we have time and again seen Virat Kohli looking towards Dhoni in crunch situations. When the team is under pressure, Dhoni tends to shout instructions to the bowlers and help in adjusting the inner field setting.
Harsha Bhogle once said about Dhoni, "I won’t be surprised if he just walks away from the game and never comes back." So let us all enjoy this cricketing genius one last time before he bids farewell and goes off into the sunset.