When Sachin Tendulkar retired from the gentleman’s game three years back, I suddenly felt I lost a part of my living memory. And with Mahendra Singh Dhoni taking off the captain’s armband, the feeling was like losing a greater part of my adolescence.
Though I must admit that the late evening news did not hit me sudden – in fact, I saw that long coming. With growing skepticism due to anti-incumbency coupled with quite a downward curve on one side and another young, hungry and dynamic captain doing wonders at the other side of the parallel, it was a question of just a matter of time when the baton passes from Dhoni to Kohli in the shorter formats.
Dhoni’s stepping down from an on-field concern comes at a time when a lot of off-field cricket officials in the country are either resigning or getting the sack owing to some limited window measures from the judiciary that is hell bent on the grand incumbents. But as I just said that the news did not surprise me – nevertheless it did succeed to take out a long exhale or two from deep inside as the breaking updates kept flashing periodically on the television screen. And why not? MSD was more than just a name – he was an institution in himself.
I belong to a generation which can be roughly described like say “While Tendulkar was our childhood crush, Dhoni was our adrenaline rush and Kohli is our matured love.” And before someone dead against the concept of idol-worshipping in the eleven-player team game objects, I would like to clarify that Tendulkar, Dhoni and Kohli are just representation of the generational proceedings. Coming to the question why Dhoni was so special was simply the fact that he is pioneer to a lot of things in Indian cricket.
The man from Ranchi was our first permanent solution for the long asking and troubling question of a genuine wicketkeeper-batsman. Next, none other Indian keeper has been handed the full-time reins of the team in one and all format. For another interesting matter, MS never captained a side even at the state-level. And in his first assignment, he went on to lift the inaugural World T20 and in the following season won the tri-series in Australia. In early 2009, Dhoni led the side that won both the series in Tests and ODIs in New Zealand – followed by reaching the summit of ICC Test rankings by year-end to stay there for another year and a half. In between came a first-ever drawn Test series in South Africa with the cherry on the cake being the World Cup win back at home – that perhaps elevated him to a position next only to Tendulkar in the heart of the die-hard Indians who consider the game as their religion.
But if the Midas was ever to be questioned about his legacy, it would be right after the spring of 2011 – when India were whitewashed back-to-back at England and Australia. So far was the humiliation that between July 2011 and July 2014, India remained winless overseas – having played 13 Tests, losing 10 of them. Then came the famous victory at Lord’s, but what was later seen to be a mirage in the desert – with the visitors going on to lose horribly in the next three Tests in that English summer. And in six months’ time after the submission in the Australian summer was complete, India’s full-time captain for six years realized that enough was enough. Categorically, 13 of Dhoni’s 14 losses as captains overseas came after he lifted the trophy at the Wankhede. In his comfortable home turf however, Dhoni marshaled his troops more effectively than any of his predecessors – winning all the series but two. Overall, 21 of his 27 Test wins came at home, while 15 of his 18 defeats came away from home. So a proper analysis of Dhoni’s leadership in the longest format would be “hunters at home, fodder away”.
Coming to the shorter version, the 35-year old Indian is the only captain to win all major ICC events – World T20 in 2007, World Cup in 2011 and Champions Trophy in 2013 – in three different continents. Apart from that, he took his side to another two inspired spells in World T20 in 2014 (lost in final) and World Cup in 2015 (lost in semi-final) – worth of getting a mention as the team won all but one game in those two big-ticket tournaments. Like in Tests, he took his side to the summits of official rankings in both the shorter formats. In all, India’s No. 7 jersey owner boast of 110-74 record from 199 times he led his side in the ODI format. Dhoni is the second-most successful ODI skipper of all time in terms of matches won. In the T20I, the former Indian captain is the only captain till date to captain a side for atleast 50 times with an overall 41-28 from a total of 72.
Despite his exploits in limited overs, there were demands of Dhoni’s removal from the altar right since 2012 when his team faced the twin overseas catastrophe or the English rampage on Indian soil. The resentments grew further with India drawing blank at bigger tournaments post Champions Trophy 2013 and the World Cup loss at Australia followed by humiliation was Bangladesh was the peak time when the celebrated “finisher” found it tough to confront his opposition. Nevertheless, the impending decision was thwarted for long enough to a duration of two years since his Test swansong.
In a country which is not a great patron of split-captaincy, Dhoni perhaps succeeded travelling in the difficult lane for a total of 56 matches in 14 different series across a 2-year period – which not much have had travelled before him. Before Dhoni, it was Anil Kumble, the current national coach, who used to helm the Test affairs of the team while India’s first keeper-captain was doing the leading duties in the shorter formats. That Kumble-Dhoni dual affair too did not last beyond a year and hence, the most expensive player in the inaugural IPL auction has once again pioneered his cause of swimming against the tides for way too long.
Coming back to my adulation of the early-Mahi days, Dhoni is less than a thousand runs short of the ODI-10000 club – which I fondly earmarked him to achieve after seeing his twin knocks of 148 and 183 way back in 2005. With a team brimming with a pool of talent both in the playing XI as well as on the benches, the task of the Jharkhand mentor to retain his place in the team (and hence achieve the milestone) as a player at the far end of his 12 year-long international career – where he spend almost three-quarters of it as the captain – is indeed a difficult proposition. Perhaps, he is going to face a tough challenge from the youngsters than that were faced by Dravid and Ganguly – who could somewhat prolong their careers even after passing off the captaincy. But then again, the man in question is a pioneer and as such, it is only time which can have the final answer on whether he is going to survive the odds in his last lap as well.