It’s appropriate that MS Dhoni’s last minutes as Indian Test captain were spent in an act of defiance.
Throughout Dhoni's reign, defiance has been a common thread; at different times he defied convention, logic and common sense but through it all his record is one of great achievement. However, the one thing he didn’t achieve was overseas success, and his retirement announcement was well-timed for the Indian team.
For a Test captaincy career that showed such promise at the start, he often displayed frustrating stubbornness and what at times looked like disinterest in the proceedings. Too often his teams capitulated without the fight you would expect from a side that was led by a warrior.
Apart from his incredible ability to stay calm, hit long and finish short-form games with a flourish, the thing that has stood out in his career has been his durability. It’s not surprising that at times he appeared weary of ideas at Test level when he captained and kept in all three forms of the game and did the same in a hectic IPL schedule. He’s entitled to put his feet up for a bit and savour his achievements.
His CV at home was outstanding and it made his touring efforts more frustrating that much of what he achieved in India was done with thoughtful aggression. His counter-attacking double century in India’s opening victory at Chennai in 2012-13 was a great example of the perfect timing to launch an assault on the opposition and dramatically change the balance of the game.
Contrast that with his at times logic defying captaincy at the MCG in his last Test, and it’s easy to understand the frustration at his maddening inconsistencies. As a Test captain he will be revered at home and roundly criticised away.
The current Indian side is flush with talent and this was on display at the MCG. Virat Kohli enhanced his reputation both as a batsman and an antagonist, with a glittering display of shots and an excess of words that would please a voluble politician. Hopefully, now he’s captain we’ll see more of the former and less of the latter.
Ajinkya Rahane has [metaphorically] grown in stature on this tour and for a short man he’s coped brilliantly with the extra bounce of Australian pitches. This pair and Murali Vijay provide India with the core of a strong batting side, able to cope with a variety of conditions.
The bowling overseas is where India need to improve and without Dhoni’s demanding ways this could happen quickly. Dhoni likes to control things as captain and often this was to the detriment of the bowlers.
Without his controlling influence the selections should better reflect form and the tactics become more logical.
Despite his shortcomings overseas, he’s still by far the most successful Indian captain and he’s given great service as a keeper-batsman.
In the end he helped defy his opponents at the MCG to obtain the one result that had eluded him as captain in Tests against Australia, a draw. Such an even-handed result was not typical of a captaincy career that tended to either ascend to the heights or descend to the depths.
The writer is a former Australia Test Captain