Back in 2004, the Indian team management decided to hand an unheralded, raw cricketer his first India cap. A product of the Bihar cricketing circuit, that young lad had taken aback members of the cricketing fraternity with his sheer bravado and fearlessness.
However, he didn’t enjoy a particularly brisk start to his career. A string of low scores piled up and eventually questions were raised regarding his unconventionality. Yet, he stuck to his guns, backed himself and then that innings at Vishakhapatnam against Pakistan came about.
The whole of India rejoiced at the sight of a batsman clobbering the ball from the outset with a technique not many found in the cricketing manuals. A certain MS Dhoni had arrived.
The years that followed saw the wicket-keeper evolve from just a lower-order dasher to one of the greatest white-ball finishers the game has ever seen. In the process, he developed a template for chasing. A template many others have tried, to varying degrees of success and one that he too has deployed.
However, in recent times, that approach has, on occasions, meant that his team has gotten stuck in quicksand.
The first chinks in Dhoni’s armour started to appear on India’s rather uninspiring tour of the United States in 2016 when Dwayne Bravo outfoxed his Chennai Super Kings teammate to clinch a victory from a seemingly hopeless situation. The trend continued in a few international games before rearing its ugly head at last year’s Asia Cup final.
Chasing 223 for victory, the Indians recovered after a wobbly start but then Dhoni started to slow down. Eventually, he perished to Mustafizur Rahman. However, on that day, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kedar Jadhav and Ravindra Jadeja masked those errors. On Wednesday in Manchester though, that wasn’t the case.
The general consensus is that against New Zealand, had MS started to take risks earlier, Jadeja might’ve settled down a lot more.
Thus, one is inevitably led to the question of why he leaves it so late and why he hasn’t changed his game to suit his diminishing abilities.
At times, this could be perceived as stubbornness and make no mistake, that’s been the notion over the past couple of years. And while others may have jumped ship after a couple of failed attempts, Dhoni certainly didn’t indulge in that notion, despite numerous calls to do so. But why?
The answer to that question is that he just backs himself, no matter what the situation entails. Such powers of self-belief are extremely rare to find in the fickle-natured world of sport. However, that is what Dhoni has been doing all these years and ironically, that could well have led to his downfall.
The former Indian captain is not devoid of weaknesses and as a human, he possesses them in abundance. However, amongst all that, he has taught billions a plethora of life lessons; one of those being backing oneself to the hilt, despite the glaring deficiencies. After all, it takes quite a lot of heart to stand in the face of adversity and still trust your limited skill-set to get the job done.
Additionally, he never sought centre-stage in a country that is sometimes guilty of going searching for it.
He was on the periphery after leading India to World Cup victories in Mumbai and Johannesburg and he was just the same after crushing defeats in Manchester, Mirpur and Sydney. And that is another one of Dhoni’s teachings: treat success and failure as the same and only then, will you be able to maintain equanimity.
Most importantly though, he ensured that youngsters from small cities and towns could dream of carving a niche for themselves. He was the beacon for them, daring them to have ambitions; ambitions that once felt ludicrous but now feel achievable, especially with an example to look up to. And that, above all, tells us why we might never have another MS Dhoni.
Through his career, he was prone to flashes of brilliance and the odd moments of exasperation. Yet, not many have blended those quite as well as the lad from Jharkhand.
Years ago when a long-haired, debonair personality walked out, adjusting his gloves nervously, many believed that he would just leave a muscular imprint on the game and then depart. Yet, he ended up shaping an entire generation of cricketers.
At this juncture, not many know what the former Indian skipper’s future plans are. However, if he proceeds to play another international game for India, one would most certainly bet on him playing the same brand of cricket that has brought Indians a combination of unbridled joy and frustration.
After all, that is just how the MS computer works. He is the ultimate poker player, trusting his own hand, not giving the opposition a chance to guess what he’s thinking and then unfurling the decisive move when the stakes are at its crest.
And that, more than the sheer number of trophies in his cabinet, will end up defining the enigma that is MS Dhoni.
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