MS Dhoni: Reminiscing his Heroism, Awaiting his Last Hurrah!
The quintessential Indian cricket captain, MAK Pataudi once had said, “One should retire when people ask - Why? And not– Why not?” He went on to add that this was applicable not only for sportspersons but also for people from all walks of life.
Much to the chagrin of teeming millions of cricket lovers across the world, MS Dhoni, arguably India’s most successful cricket captain announced his retirement from international cricket on 15th August last even as ICC Men’s T-20 World Cup is being kept under suspended animation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Interestingly, there is a strange coincidence about the entry and exit of Dhoni’s illustrious cricket career. Indian cricket lovers can never forget the nail-biting semi final of the last ICC World Cup in 2019. Launching a grueling fight back from India tottering at 92 runs for the loss of six wickets, Dhoni along with Ravinder Jadeja, took the game to a tantalizingly close finish against New Zealand.
However, a direct throw by Martin Guptil caught fleet-footed Dhoni out of the crease thereby shattering India’s hopes. Ironically, Dhoni, who has been widely acclaimed as one of the fastest sprinters between the 22 yards of a cricket pitch, was run out in his debut ODI way back in 2004 against Bangladesh thereby justifying the good old saying that “Success or failure in life hangs on a slender thread!”
In the midst of lavish praises pouring in for Dhoni on his retirement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tribute that Dhoni ‘epitomizes the spirit of New India’ seems most pertinent. Cricket, for long, had remained the monopoly of the metro cities of India. Dhoni, the first Indian cricket captain from the “small town” of Ranchi, is the embodiment of the emerging vibrant spirit of ambitious, computer literate Indian youths, their burgeoning self-esteem, their emphasis on action and yearning for success and glory.
Dhoni’s superlative success is, however, the logical culmination of the contributions made by a number of legends in making the game of cricket a ‘virtual religion’ and a powerful thread of national integration. Pataudi is credited to have fostered patriotic, nationalistic spirit at a time when Indian cricket was bedeviled with factionalism. Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, through their lofty individual performances, made the world take cognizance of an emerging cricketing power alongside other super powers like Australia, England and West Indies. Saurav Ganguly magnified India’s need to stop being passive, nice guys and face the world manfully.
Sachin Tendulkar showcased how to dominate the best bowling attacks in the world ruthlessly. And Dhoni was the solace providing satisfaction to the cricket-hungry Indians by leading India to lift the champion’s trophies in the ICC T-20 World Cup in 2007, followed by 2011 ODI World Cup. The icing on the cake came when he lifted the Champions’ Trophy held in England making him the only captain in the world to have led his country to victory in all the three ICC trophies.
Statistically, Dhoni has captained in any as many 332 matches through all formats of the game of cricket and won 178 matches. No captain has won more matches for India in international cricket than Dhoni. He further enjoys the incredible record of winning seven out of eleven times leading Team India in a knockout match at a multi-team event.
Dhoni’s uncanny ability to motivate his team mates, his cool temperament and high sense of equanimity were best displayed during the ICC World Cup, 2015. Immediately prior to the World Cup, 2015, Team India had toured Australia and suffered humiliating defeats in all formats of the game. India’s abysmal performance had led to a few experts rubbishing the Indian team and opined that it would come as a surprise if the Indian bowlers could get all ten wickets of any opposition team during the 2015 world cup.
However, the experts were shocked and baffled at team India’s total transformation as the world cup unfolded. Pulverizing arch rivals Pakistan in the first encounter was just the ignition they needed. Team India then annihilated a strong South African team in the second match thereby setting the excitement and expectation into motion. Dhoni and his boys went about beating team after team and reached the semi final to set up a clash with Australia. The cricket experts, in a volte face, were compelled to shower heaps of praise on the scintillating Indian performance led by the redoubtable Dhoni.
The Himalayan achievements of the finest executor of ‘Helicopter-shot’ cannot be summed up in a short write up. Dhoni’s cricketing script had the mythical narrative of a Bollywood movie.
Millions of Dhoni admirers, anguished at being deprived of watching a farewell match in Indian national colours, are however elated at the prospect of witnessing him in the forthcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) starting 19th September in the UAE. He remains the captain of the Chennai Super Kings and his consistency of success in the IPL is as amazing as his international career having won three championships and having taken his team into the qualifying stage in all editions - a rare achievement indeed. His batting average in 170 innings stands at an enviable 44.32 with a superb strike rate of 137.85. His swash-buckling knock of 84 runs in which he had whacked three consecutive sixes and a four in his bid to win the heart-stopping match against Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2019 remains fresh in the minds of connoisseurs besides vindicating his image as the best finisher in the ‘bang-bang’ version of cricket. IPL 2020, therefore, is a virtual resurrection for Dhoni’s countless admirers.
To wind up with the words of Harsha Bhogle, “He gave the cricket crazy nation the taste of consistent success besides being an emblem of small-town India making it to the top of the world.”
(The author is a retired civil servant. The views expressed in the article are his own.)