It was a day of surprises at the MCG just before the end of the year. Firstly, the declaration by Steve Smith in the morning, and then in the evening, the surprise retirement of India captain MS Dhoni . And by evening, the news of MSD would have completely wiped out the debate whether an early declaration could have made the series score 3-0.
For the time being, the country will be engrossed in the debate on the Indian captain’s retirement and, as I sit down to pen my opinion on it, I would be brutally honest that I am surprised by the decision in the middle of the series. Three Tests are over and it was a question of one more. He could have finished it off. None of us knows whether this decision in the middle of the series could have happened because of an injury, which would have ruled him out of the next Test. He did come into the series with a finger injury and none of us has an idea whether that had become worse.
Whatever may have happened, and whether it would have happened a Test later, I feel the decision to give up captaincy was right, though I think the decision not to play Test cricket is an incorrect one. I have been in this situation before and I can bet it would have allowed Dhoni to play freely and do justice to his talent. We would have seen a rejuvenated Dhoni for the remaining part of his Test career as he still had cricket left in him.
Captaincy never gets easier with time and Dhoni had been in this job for a long, long time. Leading the team day in and day out in all formats is tough, not to mention the wicket-keeping and batting. It would have made life extremely difficult for him. It deserves special mention that he managed to do that for such a long time. In the recent past, there had been lot of criticism of Dhoni’s captaincy in the longer format and it does take a toll, however strong a person may be. To be honest, it wasn’t the most biased one either.
If you analyse Dhoni’s tenure as captain, it could be divided in two parts — before 2011 and after 2011. And, he would agree that the one after 2011 has been a nightmare for him, especially overseas, losing 12 Tests out of 18 played by him. It can be shattering and despite MSD being a cool person it was bound to affect him. As a competitor and a performer, and as someone who wouldn’t give up without a fight, he kept trying but it just kept going downhill. Finally, it came to a point where he did not have the mental energy to lift everyone up again.
Now, where does MSD go from here? He will continue to play and lead India in the shorter format till the World Cup and then? It will be an important question after the World Cup and we will have to wait for the answer till then. I can vouch that he is the greatest one-day captain the country has had and probably one of the best in the world, because no captain in world cricket has three world titles under the belt.
With his ability he could have achieved a lot more in Test cricket away from home. But, then, that is life — there is one cupboard empty all the time.
The writer is a former India Test captain.