There are times when a small gesture becomes more meaningful than a grandiose act or a phenomenal achievement. Johannesburg September 24, 2007 is a historic day for cricket in more ways than one. It was the final day of the first ever World T-20 of which India, led by MS Dhoni, became the first-ever winners, despite having initially shown great reluctance to even participate in it. Coming on the heels of a squabbling India’s disastrous first round exit from the one-day World Cup in the West Indies, this win came as a rejuvenating tonic for a cricketing nation in mourning.
Since the seniors of the team had decided to keep away from this mini version of the game, which was yet to be taken as a serious threat to its longer version, a dynamic young unconventional explorer of the game, MS Dhoni, was handed over the reins of the team for this limited period.
The man with a flowing mane, stout build and the stamp of a small town boy, led the Indian charge with refreshing innovations and puzzling moves. He had the gumption, courage and self-belief to hand over the last over of a pulsating close final against Pakistan to a novice, Jogender Sharma. The gamble paid off as the match was won, India became the champions and the contours of world cricket changed forever.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who would author many such audacious moves in the future as well, where field placements or bowling changes appeared whims of an undecipherable mind till they resulted in grand success, mingled with the crowd, smiling and soaking in the reality of this stunning achievement.
Then, all of a sudden, MS Dhoni took off his India shirt and draped it across the shoulders of a young kid, one among many in the crowd rejoicing at his team’s win. The bare-chested Indian captain, his face drowned in a smile moved on, leaving the child in disbelief at this unexpected but magnanimous gesture that to me, still defines the man.
It was a gesture that symbolized a departure from a hardcore mean professional mind set, one which probably did not see a match as a contest where life and death is at stake, but a sport where without taking risks and being intuitive nothing much could be achieved.
Almost a decade later, having achieved so much that he is now on a pedestal of his own, where he has few peers, MS Dhoni is no longer the captain, having given up the throne he had almost made his own.
Just like his batting, where the muscular and the delectable, explosive bursts and long periods of inertia combined to produce innings after innings of extraordinary quality and impact, his captaincy too was unconventional but mindful of the team’s strengths and limitations.
His mind, occupied with the difficult task of keeping wickets, did not let the pressures of planning and strategising affect his decision making. To not show anger if things go wrong is not always a virtue, but to remain cool and not let panic spread when things are going against the team, is a strength few possess.
Dhoni left Test captaincy when few expected him to do so and he decided to quit as one-day skipper when most felt the time had come for him to pass on the baton. This move should help him keep playing for a longer period of time as India still need him for his fabled batting-keeping abilities.
It will truly be a sad day for Indian cricket when Dhoni finally calls it a day.