Mahendra Singh Dhoni relinquished the captaincy of the Chennai Super Kings ahead of Season 15 of the Indian Premier League. Image Credit: AFP

I will miss Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his press conferences. Not that I was a massive fan of the former India captain. I liked him and his demeanour. I enjoyed his batting and, more importantly, his captaincy. What appealed to me most was how he handled the post-match chats. He was a delight to watch.

Generally, most captains spout obvious lines, and even criticism is often couched in diplomacy. That’s boring to listen to. Dhoni was never boring.

The responses to the interviewer’s questions reflected his analytical mind. Whenever he was asked what went wrong, Dhoni broke the game into passages of play and pinpointed exactly where the match was lost. It also gave a peek into the team’s plans. As a cricket-lover, such insights were illuminating.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni (left) and Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni handed over the Chennai Super Kings' captaincy to Jadeja ahead of the start of the 15th season of the Indian Premier League. Image Credit: ANI

So I loved Dhoni the captain, more than the player. As a wicketkeeper, he was a coach’s nightmare. His keeping style may not be from the copybook, but it worked; he didn’t miss many catches or stumpings. Even his batting technique is not one for the purists. But he made it work, and his trademark helicopter shot has been copied by other big-hitters.

Dhoni’s intuitive shot-making skills were noticed by then-coach Greg Chappell and captain Rahul Dravid. And early in his career, he was frequently promoted up the order.

A Dhoni half-century in Abu Dhabi

I remember his half-century in Abu Dhabi in the One-day International against Inzamam ul Haq-led Pakistan in 2006. He came into bat at the fall of opener Virender Sehwag, and a long-haired Dhoni promoting a brand of tea on a billboard overlooking the Zayed Cricket Stadium watched the real-Dhoni play a stroke-filled innings.

Dhoni’s batting transitioned when he became captain. He dropped in the order and played the finisher in white-ball games so well that he became a role model. The Dhoni method of finishing games by taking them deep was regarded as the best way to win tight games.

His captaincy skills in limited-over games were a sight to behold. The unlikely bowling changes that fetched instant rewards left me in total disbelief. More baffling was his tendency to trust rookies with the death overs. How do you explain Dhoni’s decision to bowl Joginder Sharma in the last over of the final in the inaugural World Cup in 2007? Well, Sharma dismissed Pakistan captain Misbah ul Haq, and the rest is history.

For all his shrewd captaincy in white-ball cricket, I always felt Dhoni’s tactics were a bit defensive in Test cricket. Maybe, that was born out of the belief that India didn’t have the bowling attack to claim 20 wickets in five-day games. Yet Dhoni is the most successful Indian captain after Virat Kohli with a win percentage of 45, having won 28 of the 60 Tests while losing 18 and drawing 15.

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As skipper of Chennai Super Kings, Dhoni went on to script several such dramatic wins. Victories that had the stamp of Dhoni. Wins that only Dhoni could have conjured. He was fondly called “Thalaiva” (leader), and CSK’s Whistle Podu [Blow a whistle] fans revered him. They would have wanted him to be captain forever. Dhoni knew better.

For me, the IPL 2020 was a reminder of Dhoni’s waning skills as a batsman. Even last year, I watched him struggle, although there were occasional flashes of brilliance. But the sheer dominance, which often reminded me of Vivian Richards, was missing. So I wasn’t surprised when Dhoni handed over the reins to Ravindra Jadeja, although the timing caught me off-guard. That’s typical of Dhoni. Always doing the unexpected.

Dhoni the batsman will be around, but CSK will miss his instinctive decision-making. He may be at hand to advise Jadeja, but it’s still not the same as captaining the side. Dhoni would want Jadeja to grow in the leadership role. That means reduced involvement.

It will undoubtedly impact CSK’s fortunes. They will run into turbulence before steadying themselves.

Captain Cool, Dhoni was. I will miss his captaincy and disarming smile. And his incisive comments.