An inimitable phenom MSD
Before hanging up his boots, Dhoni has led the Indian team to innumerable feats in his now legendary career
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." — Maya Angelou.
When he walked back to the pavilion after the game-changer run-out against New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semi-final, many believed that this exit would trigger the retirement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The long-haired, rustic-looking man from Ranchi who made his One-Day International debut against Bangladesh in Chittagong in 2004, was run out for a duck; went on to lead India to the 2007 World T20 title in its inaugural edition against Pakistan in the final and clinched the 50-over World Cup crown in 2011 against Sri Lanka after 28 years with a six (lofting the ball over long-on with his trademark 'helicopter shot'), leaves behind a legacy of his own while the man himself remains an enigma — a mystery "wrapped in a million-dollar bubble".
For his followers, fans and even for experts of the game, MSD will not be known for not diving to save his wicket against New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semi-final when Martin Guptill, out of nowhere, charged in and returned a lightning-quick bulls-eye throw at the stumps from short fine-leg, effectively bringing the Indian campaign to a startling halt.
It became one of the biggest talking points after fans shared video proof claiming that the iconic batsman was run-out on a no-ball.
But New Zealand won the semi-final against India by 18 runs and went on to play England in the final — a thriller that hardly has any parallel in cricket and also very few in any other sport.
However, Dhoni's run out was soon followed by India's exit from the World Cup and the gap between his bat and the crease became the most heart-breaking picture on the Internet.
This match was the 39-year-old's last outing in India colours.
There were earsplitting speculations about his retirement but nobody could actually predict how, when and in which manner given the complex yet simple mechanisms of the man.
Until his last game, he was one of the fittest in the team, the best wicket-keeper and a batting anchor who raised hopes even in the face of an inevitable loss. Dhoni's greatest moment in his 16-year career spanning 90 Tests, 350 One-Day and 98 T20 Internationals came when he led his country to victory in the 2011 World Cup at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium.
MS promoted himself up the order after Virat Kohli departed in the 22nd over at 114 for 3. With just 150 runs in the last seven innings, the captain had had an indifferent tournament but with Sri Lanka bringing in Muthiah Muralidharan to bowl, he knew he was in total control. Murali had been a part of Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, an outfit Dhoni captained. The latter had played him extensively in the nets and believed he knew exactly how to face the most dangerous spin bowler in the world.
Bestowed with the finest cricketing sensibilities, Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, who joined him after Gautam Gambhir departed at 97, swung the match decisively in the host's favour.
Nuwan Kulasekara ran in to bowl to the skipper with 11 balls to go and only three needed for victory. The Indian captain looked around him, calmed down and then with an unexpectedly vicious swing lunged at Kulasekara with his trademark helicopter shot for a six. As 1.3 billion bewildered fans looked up, hearts in their mouths, the little white ball flew over long-on and into eternity.
That six, so divinely ordained, will be the picture that will be etched in the memories of India's cricket fans and MSD's army of supporters forever.
The little twirl of the bat from Dhoni after the winning shot was the epitome of equipoise that was so characteristic of Captain Cool making him look detached from the happenings around him. On the field, he has been the embodiment of poise, inspiring so many of his fellow colleagues and aspiring cricketers, leave alone millions of fans who have always been overwhelmed with his immense control over his emotions and also his irrepressible confidence with which he brought out every ounce of his supreme talents.
Making his international debut in 2004, Dhoni played 535 times for India across all formats, amassing 17,092 runs and scoring 15 centuries. He is the only captain to win all three limited-overs ICC titles — the ODI World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the T20 World Cup.
Just like his mane that went through a "metamorphosis" pretty much every other season, including an undercut spike or a brash Mohawk, Dhoni was not a follower of copious technical jargons but created his own style, coupled with an air of self-assurance that not only made him unpredictable but also made others believe in his conviction.
Over the years, he has been known as a power hitter, one with impeccable reflexes behind the stumps, hardly a velvet-gloved wicketkeeper and a copybook cricketer; a merciless finisher and the most intelligent skipper when it came to experimenting.
Otherwise, who would have thought that Dhoni would give the final over of the nail-biting T20 World Cup final against Pakistan to Joginder Sharma.
There was always that known unknown factor with Dhoni that made him so special and the most important vector in Indian cricket.
MSD was all about optimism, making his team and fans feel something was possible until he was there. For him, there was always a new angle that could be explored, a fresh twist to the tale.
He was expected to feature in the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia this year but the tournament got postponed until October 2021 because of Coronavirus.
Dhoni uploaded a 4 minutes and 7 seconds video on Instagram and wrote in his inimitable style: "Thanks a lot for ur love and support throughout. from 1929 hrs consider me as Retired."
For cricket lovers, MSD will always be an emotion, a legend, etched in time, forever.