I follow cricket, which is not saying much in this country as everybody does. Timing an exit, as MS Dhoni has done, is important. It is the ability to recognise that age is a debilitating factor that catches up with everyone without fail, even very successful sportsmen such as Dhoni who continue to be supremely fit.
In more personal spheres, some try Viagra, 40-plus, 50-plus that can be endorsed by Salman Khan if such a drug exists; yoga to escape the inevitable reality; but the writing is on the wall. The earlier one recognises it, the better.
No doubt Dhoni has realised the only way that he can last longer and continue to scale greater heights as a player and a senior member of the team is to ease the burden, the stress of managing too many facets of the game or perform well in all three formats. Amitabh Bachchan has rightly tweeted:
T 2494 - So MS Dhoni retires from Captaincy, but open for selection .. this true quality of a leader .. !! better 'why' than face 'why not'— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) January 5, 2017
There are quite a few who have not listened to their bodies in the past. It was indeed painful to watch the legendary Kapil Dev, the captain of the 1983 World Cup winning team, during his last year in cricket, struggling to break Richard Hadlee’s record as the highest wicket-taker in Test matches.
Even the God of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, who pleasured India by hammering the Aussies, seemed well past his sell-by date, when he finally retired.
Dhoni the ‘Hummer’ vs Kohli the ‘Audi R8’
I happened to be recently staying at a hotel in Chandigarh where the Indian cricket team was also lodging for a one-day match against New Zealand.
Naturally, I eyed the immensely fit boys closely at the breakfast buffet and the gym. Dhoni is all muscle, built like his Hummer that he likes to drive around in his hometown Ranchi. Virat Kohli is sleek, classy and powerful like the Audi R8 that he endorses. And, it is true he does like his Americano, extra-strong and hot.
Dhoni and Kohli are no doubt highly motivated athletes, but the former’s streaked grey crew cut and stubble, does tell a story: winning an unprecedented two World Cups, Champions Trophy and IPL, a fabulous one-day average and strike rate, one of the greatest finishers in international cricket for so many years, a wicketkeeper who has barely missed a few, has indeed taken a mental and physical toll.
Dhoni has already retired from the rigours of Test cricket that can be wearying and now rightly relinquished the captaincy to a younger and high performing Kohli who is clearly at the peak of his vigour and vitality topped with sufficient experience that is necessary for the right quantum of wisdom to brew inside one’s head.
Kohli’s tweet eulogising that Dhoni bhai will always be his captain, does reflect that India’s new cricket boss has come a long way from the days of being a youngster on rapid fire BC-MC mode, the angry young man on a mission to be better than the best and on current form on track to overtake
Tendulkar’s humongous one-day record that many said at one time will remain unscaled like the great Don Bradman’s Test average.
The Way Ahead For Dhoni
As captain, more often than not, Kohli will have to play the role of peacemaker and moderator, and ask his overeager team mates to cool it.
The way ahead for Dhoni will be difficult, no doubt. There are other younger, maybe hungrier wicketkeeper-batsmen who will be vying for a place in the team. KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant are already in the mix for the upcoming England series.
As Rahul Dravid has said, Dhoni’s performance will be closely scrutinised and he will have to hold his place in the team, on merit, to make it to the World Cup squad in 2019.
So far, Dhoni has handled and most likely plotted his gradual exit from cricket remarkably well; retirement, like love-making, has to be paced with age, given the rigours of non-stop twelve months of cricket and the inevitable slowdown as the body loses its physical prowess.
It will, however, not be far-fetched to predict that Dhoni will be the first to step down from the team if he believes he does not deserve to be there any more. Though there is nothing more to prove, one hopes he has it in him to hit one last six that wins India another World Cup. Possible?