By – Rijul Nadkarni (RLBU)
He takes his guard at the popping crease and goes through his ritual of adjusting the velcro strap on his gloves . The crowd in the meanwhile is going berserk with chants of “Dhoni! Dhoni! Dhoni!” echoing in the stadium and mind you in a game in which he’s the captain of the away team. It was the home ground of a newly formed franchise in the IPL , the Gujarat Lions . Such is the respect this individual commands in a country where cricket is religion and cricket’s own ‘God’ dwells in . Be it captaining the number one test team in world cricket , an unbelievable unbeaten run , winning every possible ICC event there is ,most number of stumpings in international cricket ,a staggering limited overs average; MS has done it all . But what he has achieved goes way beyond mere numbers . He has told young small town Indians that they could conquer the cricket world or any world for that matter if they have the hunger and determination to succeed . Though this article may seem to be tilting towards MS’s journey to cricket , it is more about MS in cricket or cricket in MS . P.S. It has nothing to do with MSD – the movie !
Generally when there’s an upcoming Indian cricketer, there’s always a buzz in the Ranji circuit about the talent he possesses. I don’t think anyone knew Mahendra Singh Dhoni when he made his debut in 2004 . I don’t think anyone was meant to.
Who would’ve imagined that the long-brown-haired , free-spirited and explosive batsman of 2004 with average wicket-keeping skills would be considered in the same league as Adam Gilchrist ,Mark Boucher and Kumar Sangakkara among wicket-keeper batsmen and one of India’s greatest captains ten years down the line. If his role-model , Adam Gilchrist , revolutionized the role of a modern-day wicketkeeper-batsman, Dhoni has set the bench mark for the position in India .But his true worth to the Indian team is undoubtedly provided by his captaincy skill set.
After being asked to float about an almost flawless batting lineup in the years from 2005-07 under Greg Chappell as coach , he was given all the freedom to express himself and the then explosive Dhoni didn’t put a price on his wicket. After India’s debacle at the 2007 WC and due to dressing room unrest , ‘experience’ in the Indian outfit opted out of the inaugural world T20 . Dhoni was named captain of a young and amateur outfit after being recommended by Tendulkar to the selectors who was impressed by his calm demeanor and figured that composure was the need of the hour at the crux of things at the time. As it is said , with more power comes more responsibility and the added responsibility brought the best out of Dhoni – the batsman and the keeper .
After India’s shock World Cup exit in 2007 , there were attempts to burn down MSD’s home in Ranchi which was under construction then . But few would’ve predicted him to go on to build an empire of his own .
India beat the odds and went on to lift the inaugural World T20. One time wonder, they said. Dhoni has the rub of the green, they said. As the years rolled by , Dhoni amassed resounding victories in ODI’s , T20’s and Tests even taking India to the numero uno position in Tests . While Dhoni’s win percentage is not comparable with that of say Ricky Ponting or Hansie Cronje, the numbers indicate that he is certainly in the league of Steve Waugh, Graeme Smith and Allan Border, statistically and those are big names mind you. What must also be factored in is that Dhoni probably captained teams that weren’t blessed to have a bowling attack of the quality that some of the above mentioned captains were fortunate to have. Even Kumble and Harbhajan Singh scaled to their peaks under ‘Dada’ and were only mere reflections of their abilities under Dhoni. In addition to captaining the side, he also had the arduous task of keeping wickets and of course batting lower down the order to finish off games in crunch situations.
What he did in Test cricket was remarkable. He took his rustic game — the firm jab, the slash over point — and squeezed more out of it than you would have thought possible. An average of 38 is excellent for someone who did as many squats behind the stumps as he did, for someone who had to be in the game always. It is very difficult to be a wicketkeeper, captain and batsman. He did it for 60 Tests — remarkable. We are all creatures of our own experience and in Test Cricket if you can’t take 20 wickets you don’t win games . After bagging the highest win percentage in tests , he decided it was time for someone less wounded by overseas defeats to take over.
If you asked Dhoni secretly, he would say he favours the shorter format as you don’t need to take 10 wickets to win matches . You could just outscore the opposition over 50 overs by choking them with your spinners in the middle overs and holding your nerve at the death. Captaining Ashwin and Jadeja ball in the middle overs in tandem in a limited overs game is euphoric to MSD as he is a fond lover for keeping at and captaining spinners .
He has memorabilia of moments from his career as a leader . Be it handing the ball to Joginder Sharma in the final over of a WC final against Pakistan , Ishant Sharma bowling the 18th of the Champions trophy final to remove two set batsman of successive deliveries , promoting himself in World Final to play that match winning innings , that unbelievable last gasp run-out to beat Bangladesh in the recently concluded T20 WC and many more which ascertain how he’s always one or two overs ahead of the game.
Such is his élan that strangeness has become his sword and unorthodoxy his quixotic method of achieving success. He may not have the extravagant diving prowess of Gilchrist or Boucher or the footwork of Sangakkara but when it comes to whipping the bails in a flash there is none like him . Even at the age of 34 , he’s running doubles and threes effortlessly with only Virat Kohli fit enough to match his efforts. When the bat turns in his hand simulating a chopper’s swish, a billion eyes swing in front of TV sets to follow the ball to the stands. Yes, all the haters can deny as they like , Dhoni has become one of the best finishers of the game. Today , if India’s chasing 300 odd and Dhoni walks in at 100/4 at the halfway stage , Indian fans are still calm of touching the finish line or if there are 20 odd runs to get of the last over , logic would acknowledge the heftiness of the task at hand but the heart would say as long as Dhoni’s around there’s still a chance. This is what MSD brings to the table which nobody could think of in the nineties and the early 2000’s after Tendulkar was dismissed early.
Again, numbers speak more than they’re meant to . MS averages almost as much as Michael Bevan and more than Mike Hussey with better boundary per match ratio than either making him the most lethal in the death overs . I quote Harsha Bhogle here when he spoke of Dhoni’s finishing abilities :
“’Right gentlemen, a lot of you have been playing this game, now let me come and finish it off” .
This is where people get the plot wrong thinking that Dhoni walks out to finish games so that he can hog the limelight . But I may have to beg to differ . Remember the long-haired new captain who had just won India the first World T20? He gave away his match shirt to someone in the crowd and walked away quietly. And the suave captain who won India the 2011 World Cup? Spot him in any of the pictures? He let it be Tendulkar’s moment. It was actually his evening but he let it be about Indian cricket . The sign of a confident man.
He has given India all the major ICC trophies on the planet. When the team wins , he gives credit to his team-mates and he’s the first to take blame when the team loses . Still, Dhoni has been hounded by the retirement question whenever India lose a series , a knockout match or even a normal match they’re expected to win . He almost never answers questions in a simple manner, opting to leave the media bewildered with his chain of thought . Often he uses humour and sarcasm to hide what’s running through his mind like when he schooled the Australian reporter at the press conference post the semi-final of the T20 WC 2016 .
Ravi Shashtri once said :
“You’ll know his true worth when he hangs his boots .I won’t be surprised if he just walks away from the game and never comes back.”
In Virat Kohli , India have found an able replacement for the great Sachin Tendulkar but who could fill the gaping hole that MSD would leave when he calls it a day. Lets just hope that day doesn’t arrive soon and we continue to get oppositions to envy us for possessing an asset such as him . I’d like to conclude with Cricket is a Gentleman’s game with Mahendra Singh Dhoni as it’s true gentleman.