End of an era
Helicopter shot’, ‘Captain Cool’, ‘Mahi finishes the game in style!’ Legacies and memories remain etched as Dhoni passes the baton in his classic style — no drama, no announcement; just “OK! That’s it!” Unselfish like he always was, Dhoni has walked back to the pavilion at 199 (captained India in 199 ODIs; winning 110, losing 74) and didn’t let his personal landmark come in the way of his vision for Indian cricket.
It was in the early 2000s when a non-elegant hitter with long flowing hair entered the ranks of the Indian national team because the team needed a hitter and of course, this lad could keep the wickets too. Many experiments for a wicket-keeper batsman were made; Parthiv Patel, Dinesh Karthik were all given their chances to make it big but the man from Ranchi swung his bat higher than the others.
He arrived as an aggressive batsman and went on to calm the nerves of the ever-hungry, cricket-mad country of billions. His face was inexpressive; his mind unreadable, he was the captain who could judge all but couldn’t be judged.
The world recognised India as the cricket-crazy nation but this second-most populous country had only a single World Cup to boast about. Dhoni stepped up at the helm and led the nation to the top of the cricketing world. He brought home all the major ICC trophies with him — the T20 World Cup (2007), the 50-over World Cup (2011) and the Champions Trophy (2013) - becoming the first captain to do so and etched his place in the annals of history.
MSD brought a style with him as the leader of the national squad. Many questioned his style; accusations of favouritism and dictatorship were thrown at him. But he built a squad, a squad that wasn’t dependent on one player, a team that collectively performed. He made the same set of players play at the highest level continuously and the benefit of that showed when they were all at ease with each other, they all knew what everyone wanted. He shaped the team that was established with a clay by Sourav Ganguly.
Dhoni didn’t just lead the national team but brought about a revolution for Indian cricket. He came from the hinterland of the Indian cricket and others followed. Cricketers had started to be born in all corners of the nation and weren’t only produced by Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.
His explosive batting skills along with decent wicket-keeping abilities not only gave him a place in the Indian cricket team but also sealed his place with his aggressive, counter-attacking and stroke-play. While people questioned if his unrefined batting would survive the challenge of Test cricket, he survived and conquered all doubts. He led the Indian Test team from the front, scoring two centuries, against SriLanka in 2009 and powered India to the numero uno position in the Test rankings and held the spot for no less than 18 months.
Over time, he developed himself into the unmatchable force behind the wicket — his stumping reflexes and his reaction time at the back — all made him untouchable. Cut to the very recent New Zealand ODI series; Mahendra Singh Dhoni runs out Ross Taylor in the most fashionable way. Dhawal Kulkarni put a routine throw towards Dhoni but the latter flung the ball at the stumps dislodging them, all the while with his back to the wickets. 12 years into international cricket, nine and a half as the captain and the big Ranchi man still held the magic — a standard that youngster Wriddhiman Saha will be itching to match.
The standard in captaincy for Virat Kohli is as hard. Often regarded as a lucky captain, Dhoni proved the famous saying, “luck only favours the prepared mind.” His calculated approach on the field mixed with his share of luck has been the hallmark of his captaincy. Like getting Joginder Sharma to bowl the last over of the final of T20 World Cup in 2007, ultimately paving the way to the team’s victory; Like giving the final over of the Champions Trophy 2013 to Ishant Sharma, his decisions have been risky but did work out in the team's favour in the end.
Impeccable is the timing when the ‘Captain Cool’ has handed over the captaincy to Virat Kohli. He, calculatingly, began the process two years ago when he ushered Kohli into Test captaincy and now that the young brand ambassador of Indian cricket has settled in and successfully led the Test team to the top spot, he has been led to a new journey of discovery and responsibility. Kohli would have eventually captained the side in the 2019 World Cup but the process will start with the 2017 Champions Trophy and expectedly, just like the Test team, the ODI team too will settle in these couple of years. Classic Mahi move — calculating a move and leaving it to luck as it plays up.
Dhoni was a born leader and showed the temperament very early as a finisher. He used the same in his leadership understanding the crux of a situation of any kind. The glorious achievement of 2011 World Cup didn’t come without the man’s brilliance. Chasing 275, India was at 114-3. As Kohli’s wicket fell, all expected Yuvraj Singh to show up but Dhoni’s bravado just then came into play. With only 150 runs from 7 innings, Dhoni walked into the crease, held his own and hit the winning shot to the fence — only to bring India’s finest hour at the international stage.
Dhoni is synonymous with transitions and his own transition is no strange. From showing doors to certain seniors, he’s now himself stepping back in order to chart the future of Indian cricket. He knows he may not be able to replicate his successful captaincy in future and so, he hands over the responsibility to Kohli to etch his own team and stamp and produce his own brand of cricket.
He might have let the leadership position go but he isn’t yet calling time on his cricketing career. He remains the only link between the era of Tendulkar and Kohli. The fire in him still burns; the leader in him remains to extend the legacy of Sourav Ganguly and prospect Kohli into the future.