Dubai: The game of cricket has seen several legends stepping into retirement before Mahendra Singh Dhoni - and will see after him as well. The signing off speeches do betray a hint of tear here and there and then the floodgate of emotions open to sweep us with a collage of memories and tributes.
It was perhaps a given that ‘MSD’ was not going to give us any such chance - going by the experience of past occasions when he first quit Test cricket and it’s captaincy and then two years down the line, the white ball captaincy. One can say with a degree of conviction that any suggestion of walking into a golden sunset like a Sachin Tendulkar would have evoked that derisive smile at the corner of his lips.
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However, the fact remains that even 48 hours after his instagram video to ‘consider’ him retired from international cricket - the deluge of emotions for this cricketing hero refuses to die down. A video released on the social media of Chennai Super Kings shows him carrying a trademark smile as the ‘Thala’ (leader) walks into their dressing room after a knock at the nets to get a bear-hug from Suresh Raina - who announced his retirement on the footsteps of his leader on the social media half-and-hour later.
Was there an internal haemorrage? Or did the pragmatist Dhoni make up his mind quite a few months back itself as the chances of a last hurrah in the T20 World Cup dimmed once the IPL 2020 became uncertain in end-March as the COVID-19 pandemic spread it’s tentacles in India?
What was the significance of choosing August 15, India’s Independence Day, to announce his retirement from international cricket? An interview with Raina with a regional daily gave a peek to their masterplan - while the day marked the 73rd anniversary of the independence - the jersey numbers of Dhoni and Raina when placed together also reads 73!
It may be virtually impossible to decode Dhoni the person, but here is a look at his cricketing legacy and the challenges that still lie ahead of him:
From Kharagpur railway station to cricket’s ivory tower
By Gautam Bhattacharyya
Senior Associate Editor
There is an apocryphal story about the phoenix-like quality of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s rise to stardom. When Sourav Ganguly’s men were getting hammered at the hands of Australia in the 2003 World Cup final in South Africa. a young ‘Mahi,’ as he is nicknamed, was still serving as a ticket collector at the Kharagpur Railway Station - a town about two hours of train ride away from Kolkata and famous for it’s Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus.
Four years down the line, Dhoni was a part of the Indian squad in the 2007 World Cup at the West Indies - a campaign which ended on a disastrous note and also signalled the exit of Greg Chappell as the coach. The same year, however, saw the U-turn in his fortunes when a initially reluctant India named a rag-tag team to take part in the inaugural T20 World Cup and handed over the captaincy to Dhoni as the ‘Fab Four’ decided against playing this variety of cricket.
The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. If the World Cup triumph ushered in the start of Dhoni’s unbelievable journey from strength to strength, the fact that often gets overshadowed is that it sowed the seeds in the minds of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) the idea of a golden goose - which would be called the Indian Premier League. The rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) may have handed them a template, but Dhoni had inadvertantly played his part in sparking off the T20 revolution in Indian cricket.
The rise of Mahi as a cricket-obsessed young man from the sleepy town of Ranchi in Jharkhand (erstwhile Bihar) had been convincingly protrayed in ‘M.S.Dhoni: The Untold Story,’ the biopic from Bollywood in 2016. While it’s common knowledge that no other captain had won all three major ICC white ball tournaments, the legacy of the man extended to much beyond these titles.
Even before Dhoni’s arrival, Indian cricket had begun on tapping the talent base from the backwaters of the country with the likes of Zaheer Khan, Mohammad Kaif or even Harbhajan Singh making their presence felt under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly. Dhoni, however, took it to the next level when he became a cultural icon of the small town dreams and aspirations of India - and never throught of leaving his hometown for the comforts of a metropolis like New Delhi or Mumbai.
If anything, Dhoni took Ranchi to the world as the city now boasts of a state-of-the art stadium which regularly hosts international and IPL matches - taking the spotlight away from the steel city of Jamshedpur which used to be the original sporting hub of the state.
The members of ‘Dhoni’s India’ had a majority of the names coming from the small towns: Suresh Raina (Muradnagar,UP), Munaf Patel (Bharuch, Gujarat), Piyush Chawla (Aligarh, UP), R.P.Singh (Rae Bareli, UP) and Shantakumaran Sreesanth (Kochi, Kerala). “Guys coming from small-time towns are generally mentally and physically tougher than those coming from the metros. Smaller towns lack infra structure and facilities, so players from there have to work harder.” Dhoni had famously said at the felicitation ceremony in Mumbai on the team’s return from South Africa after winning the World T20.
This certainly shaped his philosophy, though it’s a different matter that he went on to overtake Sachin Tendulkar post the 2011 World Cup in terms of endorsements and was the ‘richest’ cricketer in Forbes list for a number of years till Virat Kohli took over. Asked if his brand value will now dip, Arun Pandey, his long time friend and portfolio manager told the media: “Since the World Cup (in July 2019), we have signed up with 10 new brands and it is a long-term thing. It will keep on increasing as Dhoni is not just about cricket, he is a youth icon.
“In most cases, retirement does have an impact but not when it comes to Dhoni. His achievements are not individual, his achievements are for the team and for the coutnry,” said Pandey, who was also the producer of his biopic.
Guys coming from small-time towns are generally mentally and physically tougher than those coming from the metros. Smaller towns lack infra-structure and facilities, so players from there have to work harder
How will, then, Dhoni keep himself busy once the IPL season is over? “One thing is for sure, he will be spending more time with the Army. He will also give time to his commercial ventures and other commitments,’’ said Pandey.
A self-professed lover of the Army, Dhoni holds the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army. Soon after taking a sabbatical following India’s 2019 World Cup semi-final loss, he trained with the Parachute Regiment for more than a month.
So will it be IPL, Army and handpicked commercial commitments in the coming days? Looks like it, but you never know with Dhoni...
DHONI IN FIGURES
Full name: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Date of Birth: July 7, 1981
City: Ranchi, Bihar (now Jharkhand)
Highest Score: 224
Highest Score: 183
Highest Score: 56
Test debut: December 2-6, 2005, India vs Sri Lanka at Chennai
Last Test: December 26-30, 2014, Australia vs India at Melbourne
ODI debut: December 23, 2004, Bangladesh vs India at Chattogram
Last ODI: July 9-10, 2019, India vs New Zealand at Manchester
T20I debut: December 1, 2006, South Africa vs India at Johannesburg
Last T20I: February 27, 2019, India vs Australia at Bengaluru
Top 3 Best Performances
148 vs Pakistan (ODI), Visakhapatman, 2004-05
183 vs Sri Lanka (ODI), Jaipur, 2005-06
148 vs Pakistan (Test), Faisalabad 2005-06
Best captain in white ball cricket, Ganguly ahead in Tests
By Boria Majumdar
Special to Gulf News
Is Mahendra Singh Dhoni, then, the greatest leader we had and how did he transform the game he lorded over for a decade and-a-half?
It was the last over of a humdinger. India and Pakistan had given it their all but after 39 overs, there was nothing to separate the two sides. If anything, Pakistan with Misbah-ul Haq at the crease were favourites to win the inaugural T-20 World Cup. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the newly appointed Indian captain for the tournament, stunned all by throwing the ball to an unfancied Joginder Sharma.
Running up to Joginder, Dhoni said a few words before running back to take his position behind the stumps. Sharma, inspired by the faith reposed in him, produced the over of his life and Dhoni, the man with the Midas touch, had lifted himself to Indian cricket’s folklore. India were World T-20 champions against all odds and the long-haired Dhoni was Indian cricket’s new pin-up star.
Unruffled under pressure and with an uncanny ability to finish a match from any situation, he soon became India’s go-to man in white ball cricket. Winning the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia against a very strong Australian side in 2008, Dhoni had started to raise the bar and things had started to change in Indian cricket under him.
Commanding respect and loyalty from within the team, he was soon the undisputed leader that Sourav Ganguly once was. Only his record in the shorter format was better and it became unsurpassable when he won the 2011 World Cup on homesoil. Despite a poor tournament, he had the heart to push himself up the order in a pressure cooker final and played a real blinder when India needed him the most.
When he hit that final six out of the park, Dhoni knew he had elevated himself to a pedestal few would be able to match. But the surprise had not ended. Shaving his head the first thing next morning, Dhoni turned himself into India’s most loved picture postcard with World Cup in hand and that amiable smile to woo millions of fans. The Dhoni fairytale had reached the halfway mark.
After losing the plot in England and Australia in 2011-12, many had started to doubt Dhoni the skipper. As Test skipper, I will argue that Sourav Ganguly was better. The defeats to England and Australia exposed some chinks in Dhoni’s armour, who often seemed to falter in the five-day format and was allowing Test matches to drift.
Under Ganguly, India had broken new ground in Test cricket. Be it winning the toss and batting on a green top at Headingley in 2002 because he was playing two spinners to leading from the front by scoring a majestic 144 at the Gabba in 2003-4 or beating Pakistan in Pakistan for the first time in 2004, ‘Dada’ did to Test cricket what Dhoni did to the white ball format. Taught India how to win - and more so overseas.
That’s why India managed to draw against England in England, almost beat Australia Down Under and beat Pakistan in their backyard under him. Nurturing young talents including Dhoni, Ganguly laid the foundation of a Test team that eventually scaled the peak under Dhoni to become the No.1 team in the world in 2009. The expectations from Dhoni was to better overseas. While he won the ICC Champions Trophy in England he was unable to replicate the performance in Tests. When we compare these two with other Indian captains, it has to be said that they tower over the Indian cricket pantheon like a colossus with none other coming even close. Time will only tell if Virat Kohli manages to raise the bar and win the World Test Championship - following up on his act of beating Australia in Australia.
The white ball format was more the cup of tea for Dhoni and with the 2013 Champions Trophy in England - he completed a treble which no captain in the world had ever achieved.
Dhoni leaves behind a legacy in the shorter formats that will be difficult to match. With a staggering average of 50-plus as skipper, Dhoni will forever be remembered as one of India’s best limited overs captains, if not the best. One of the best finishers of the modern game, he took over at a time when none of the stalwarts wanted to lead the team in the inaugural World T-20 in South Africa. Winning India the cup from nowhere, he established himself as a key figure in Indian and world cricket.
What will be his most enduring legacy? Will be the 100-plus ODI wins or the many titles he won as captain? Or will it be his composure as skipper?
For me, it will be his eyes that followed the ball across the Wankhede boundary after a trademark Dhoni strike in winning the World Cup. He had fulfilled his own ambition and in doing so, had given a billion plus people a whole new song to sing. And the fact that he followed the ball over the boundary with that incredible expression in his eyes has added that much more to the Mahi legend - it was a release shot. Of pressure, of verve and more a statement.
Dhoni was the boss and he forced the world to acknowledge the same. It was his date with destiny and the birth of ‘Dhoni the superbrand.’ That a man from a relatively modest background can turn world cricket upside down is surely the stuff of legend.
With him deciding to play on in the IPL, there’s more that will be added to this already outstanding legacy. We will consume him each time he is out there and that’s something each one of us are waiting to do.
For the moment, though, many congrats skipper. Very well played ‘MSD’.
- The author is a senior sports journalist and scholar based in India
How Dhoni, a son of the East, became a ‘Thala?’
By A.K.S. Satish
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is known to play the cards close to his chest when it comes to the decision on his career, but he wears his heart on his sleeves about his love for Chennai.
On numerous occasions, he has openly professed his love for the Chennai Super Kings team, their management and their whistle podu fans. When the former India captain had to wear the Rising Pune Supergiant jersey when CSK were banned for two years, he went on record to say he was waiting to get back into the Chennai dressing room. And where else would he end his international career but at his ‘adopted’ home in Chennai along with his trusted lieutenant Suresh Raina.
The relationship between MSD and his franchise had been highly reciprocal. The Chennai fans idolise him and shower him with unconstrained love. His entry into the field, his walk and even a glance sends the fans into a frenzy.
To know how much his presence in the Lions’ Den, the famed Chepauk stadium, makes the fans delirious, one need not look very far. Last year, the first practice session of the Super Kings witnessed a packed stadium - yes, just a practice session.
Now, isn’t it intriguing? Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian heartland of which Chennai is the capital, has been harbouring an anti-Hindi stance for decades, including as recently as last month when the National Education Policy was announced. Ironically, the Chennai fans had no hesitation in making Dhoni their Thala (leader), who hails from the Hindi heartland. So is Raina, who is also adored as the Chinna Thala (Deputy leader).
The Tamils might be very sensitive and guarded about their language, but they are not averse in welcoming anyone with open arms, even from the northern part of India. Be it Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, more popularly known as ‘Rajinikanth,’ or Dhoni - the Tamil fans will give their life for you as long as they see a person as honest, sincere in his effort and deliver the goods with style.
On the field, Dhoni has done his every bit to take the Chennai Super Kings to the top of the pile in the Indian Premier League and the record speaks volumes of it. In the 10 seasons so far, minus the two years when Chennai were suspended for alleged involvement into malpractice, the Lions have won the title three times, finishing runners-up on five occasions and two Champions League titles. The consistency that he exhibited on the field has consistently helped swell his fan-base.
A few of them, who have had personal contact with Dhoni, have vouched for his pure and simple heart despite all the stardom and the adulation. Just like his batting where he keeps it simple, his simpleton attitude must have struck a chord with the Chennai fans.
Dhoni has an universal fan base, so why are we reducing it to just Chennai or Tamil fans? Yes, it’s a big blow to them, who were also drowned in sorrow at the loss of Sushant Singh Rajput – the reel life Dhoni. They might not see MSD wear the No. 7 Indian Blue again, but the Chennai fans will be happy now as their ‘Thala’ will be injury-free and his career with CSK could go on for a few more years as their leader.
The sun that rose in the eastern skies of Bihar, now Jharkand, has set on the southernmost tip of India - says a tweet by CSK official handle - but the Whistle podu fans will be elated as the fighter that he is will want to prove his detractors wrong, who were braying for his blood for over a year now.
Beware. The Lion will be on the prowl in the UAE!
Top five occasions which showed why Dhoni is ‘Captain Cool’
A look at the five episodes during Dhoni’s stint as India captain which proved that he was the coolest of them all:
2007 World T20 final
With the seniors rested and under a new captain, no one really gave India a chance in a format which was new to them. India under Dhoni with the long hair then proved critics wrong with spectacular wins over England, South Africa and Australia to reach the final where arch-rivals Pakistan awaited them.
It was a nerve-wracking summit clash and came down to Pakistan needing 13 runs from the final over. Of all people, Dhoni handed the ball to Joginder Sharma raising quite a few eyebrows.
Joginder was hit for a six by Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq in the second ball of the 20th over but what happened in the next ball will be remembered forever. Misbah went for a needless scoop shot over short fine leg but could only manage to find S. Sreesanth who took an easy catch and helped India win by 5 runs in the inaugural ICC World T20.
2011 World Cup final
Yuvraj Singh’s all-round brilliance had helped India reach the final on homesoil. India had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag opening the batting but chasing a challenging 275 for victory in the final against Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, India lost both iconic openers inside 31 runs. Gautam Gambhir came out at No. 3 and batted brilliantly for his 97 but it was Dhoni’s masterstroke to push himself up the order ahead of in-form Yuvraj which did the trick for India.
The Ranchi dasher smashed an unforgettable 91 off 79 balls, including the winning six off Nuwan Kulasekara in the 49th over, to lead India to a second World Cup crown. It was exceptional from Dhoni both in the mind and with the bat.
2013 Champions Trophy - Asking Rohit Sharma to open
Rohit Sharma has said time and again that Dhoni gave a new lease of life to his ODI career by asking him to open the batting in the format before the 2013 Champions Trophy in England. Since opening the batting, Rohit has scaled heights and can now be termed as one of the best opening batsman in the game after his superlative performance in the 2019 World Cup where he not only finished as the highest run getter but also scored a record five centuries.
Rohit, earlier in 2019, became the fastest to 6,000 runs as an opener in ODI cricket and now has 6,691 runs in 130 innings opening the batting.
2013 Champions Trophy - Handing Ishant Sharma the ball
A defining moment came in the rain-affected final of the Champions Trophy in Birmingham where Dhoni asked Ishant Sharma, who had been expensive before that, to bowl the 18th over. The tall pacer snared two wickets in two balls to break Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara’s 64-run stand and eventually helped India win the game and the coveted trophy.
2016 World T20
It was not a tournament where India ended as champions, losing to West Indies in the semi-finals. However, in his last ICC event as skipper, Dhoni was brilliant once again in leading the side and India’s one-run win over Bangladesh had a lot of Dhoni moments which will be remembered forever.
Hardik Pandya took three wickets off the last three balls as Bangladesh needed 11 runs in the final over, chasing 147 for victory. Dhoni’s unbelievable stumping to remove Sabbir Rahman and his field placements in the final over and a run-out off the last ball were the highlights.