‘Dhoni Made Us Believe In India – Because He Believed In Himself’
“MS Dhoni opened the doors for Indian players from small towns and obscure backwater states”: Dr Shashi Tharoor
On the evening of Independence Day, a much-loved national figure declared his own independence. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 39, the iconic ‘Captain Cool’, India’s greatest-ever wicket-keeper batsman and arguably its finest and most successful captain, announced his retirement from international cricket.
Sharing a video on Instagram, of great moments from his sixteen-year career, accompanied by the Hindi playback singer Mukesh’s classic song, ‘Pal do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon’ (‘I am a poet of one moment or two’), he wrote blandly, “Thanks a lot for your love and support throughout. From 1929 hrs consider me as Retired.”
The departure was typical of the man — abrupt, understated, brooking no discussion. Just as he had, with no fuss, announced his retirement from Test cricket in the course of a tour of Australia through an email from the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), and similarly tossed off his decision to give up the captaincy in One-Day cricket, so too he had left the international stage in his own way, and on his own terms.
‘I Knew I Would Follow Dhoni Forever’
He had hoped, friends claimed, to play one final international tournament in the 2020 Twenty20 World Cup which was to be held in Australia in October, but which has been deferred in view of COVID. It would have marked a fitting coda to a career embellished by his leading the Indian cricket team to victory in the first-ever Twenty20 World Cup held in South Africa in 2007. But it was not to be, and Dhoni decided he wasn’t going to hang around.
Dhoni burst onto the Indian scene when I was still at the United Nations and not watching much international cricket. I saw him in action for the first time when he blazed an unforgettable 183 not out in the 3rd ODI against Sri Lanka in Jaipur in 2005.
It was an astonishing performance. The Sri Lankans had made a formidable 298 for 5, with opener Sangakkara carrying his bat for 138 not out. When India replied, Tendulkar was dismissed for 2 in the first over, and then Dhoni walked in to a hushed reception. He dominated the ground like some giant gladiator in a Coliseum, wielding his bat as rapier, scalpel and bludgeon, clouting a match-winning 183 not out that enabled India to win with four overs to spare. 120 of his runs came in just 25 balls, with 15 searing fours and ten immense sixes. I was going back to the UN but I knew I would follow this young man for ever.
- I saw Dhoni in action for the first time when he blazed an unforgettable 183 not out in the 3rd ODI against Sri Lanka in Jaipur in 2005.
- Dhoni presided over a major revival of Indian cricket – a team of talents who could compete well but only rarely win were welded by him into world-beaters.
- Under his captaincy, it seemed India was capable of winning any match it played, against any opponent.
- Today, if an ever-larger number of Indian players are hailing from small towns and obscure backwater states, it is because Dhoni opened the doors for them.
‘Under Dhoni’s Captaincy, It Seemed India Was Capable Of Winning Any Match’
Dhoni presided over a major revival of Indian cricket – a team of talents who could compete well but only rarely win were welded by him into world-beaters. His record as player and captain is formidable. Under his leadership, India won every single ICC (International Cricket Council) trophy at least once: the Twenty20 World Cup, the 50-over Cricket World Cup, two Asia Cups and a Champion’s Trophy.
In 2011, the Dhoni-led Indian team won its second World Cup, with the captain powering a six into the delirious stands of the Wankhede Stadium. Under his captaincy, it seemed India was capable of winning any match it played, against any opponent. He also found success in the Indian Premier League, leading Chennai Super Kings to victory three times and becoming a hero of Chennaiyins who adopted him as their own.
Apart from his leadership skills, marked by his unflappable demeanour and calm disposition – his face never betrayed the slightest anxiety even when disaster seemed to be staring his team in the face – MS Dhoni was also known as one of the best wicket-keepers India had ever had. His twinkle-toed presence behind the crease kept every opposing batsman on guard; he would stump them in a flash if they so much as strayed out of their crease.
He managed the most astonishing run-outs, often saving precious seconds by not waiting to collect a fielder’s throw before knocking off the bails: instead he would parry the throw directly onto the wicket, sometimes without being able to see the stumps.
‘Dhoni Ended His Career As He Had Begun It’
Dhoni was also a powerful and destructive batsman, famed for his ‘helicopter shot’ in which his wrist, after completing a stroke, would whirl the bat around like the blades of a helicopter. There were few better finishers in limited-overs cricket; he kept his head till the end, often taking the match into its last over before blasting a pair of remarkable sixes in the closing deliveries to pull off an unlikely victory. Not only did he lead the team to several unlikely wins through his batting, he ended with an ODI average above 50, something that only a handful have been able to achieve, and none in as many matches as he played. Sadly he ended his career as he had begun it, with a run-out, after making 50 in the 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat by New Zealand.
On the field, MS Dhoni was known for his mercurial batting, his agile ‘keeping’, his exemplary leadership, and his cool temperament. Off the field, as one of India’s most loved sportspersons, he was a familiar face on television and print advertisements, endorsing a range of products and starting some lucrative businesses.
‘Dhoni Democratised India’s Elite Cricketing Culture’
But perhaps his most important contribution lay in just being MS Dhoni. By rising from humble origins in the backward state of Jharkhand, including working as a railway ticket-collector in order to afford to pursue the sport, he ushered in a democratisation of India’s big-city elite cricketing culture.
Today, if an ever-larger number of Indian players are hailing from small towns and obscure backwater states, it is because MS Dhoni opened the doors for them – and showed them the way. He made us all believe in India, because he believed in himself.
(Former UN under-secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor is a Congress MP and an author. He can be reached @ShashiTharoor. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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