MS Dhoni: The man who turned dreams into reality
Ahead of the India-West Indies encounter at last year’s World Cup, MS Dhoni was undergoing his routine nets session at the Old Trafford in Manchester. Over the years, Dhoni has had a fixed pattern – usually stepping into the nets late and facing the spinners first. Slowly, he brings out the big shots, readying himself to face the pacers, and if need be, take some throwdowns.
June 27, 2019 wasn’t much different. Dhoni batted for around half an hour and packed his kit. The moment he stepped out, Dhoni was mobbed by a plethora of journalists – reporters and photographers alike. Seeing almost 25 of them, quite literally, charging towards him, Dhoni took a step back and said: “Arrey! Kya ho gaya? Abhi retirement nahi announce kara maine. (What’s the matter? I haven’t announced my retirement yet).
The words got lost amid the cheers as Dhoni acknowledged almost everyone. A few autographs and selfies later, he was given his space. These are the same people who’ve had the privilege of covering him for years – some of them were in Chittagong on December 23, 2004, the day Dhoni had marked his ODI debut. You’d think this kind of mobbing by the press must be pretty normal, right? Wrong! Veteran journalists had seldom seen this kind of madness from their younger peers.
Little over a year later, Dhoni has indeed called time on his international career. This time, there was no big ICC event, nor a flock of journalists. Dhoni went out and how? Through a post on Instagram. A video montage that’s, to be honest, rough around the edges. I find the announcement surprising. Despite being aware deep down that the semi-final against New Zealand on July 10 was his last in India colours, I felt Dhoni would never officially announce his retirement, and that it would be understood – when he wouldn’t have played another game for India in the next year – that he’s done.
Afterall, that’s how it’s always been with him. Even when he walked away from Test cricket, helping India save the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, legend has it that no one had even the slightest of ideas about it. After wrapping up the press conference, Dhoni returned to the change room and dropped a bomb on his teammates. Then again, he does give you those subtle hints, and it’s up to you whether you can crack it. At the MCG, he had walked off the ground holding a stump, while at the World Cup 2019, Dhoni, different logos appeared on his bat throughout the tournament which, for all you know, could be his way of thanking the sponsors who’ve supported him over the years
But perhaps Dhoni owed it to his fans, who’ve had a huge role in making him an icon – perhaps next only to Sachin Tendulkar. Since his absence from cricket last year, the belief is that everyone knew the time had come – Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri, his friends, even a section of his fans. Although it was never said out loud, the fact that MSK Prasad, the former BCCI chief selector had stated in October that the panel had decided to ‘move on’ from Dhoni, was a huge indication in itself.
Hark back to 2004, the year Dhoni burst on to the scene. Long before the LEDs, UHDs and 4K came into existence, a young Dhoni was presented to us on our TV screens. The 21-inch Flatron was the best available in the market and that’s the first memory of an exuberant Dhoni for many. MAX (now Sony Max) aired India A’s tour of Kenya, and I in particular, happened to catch both of Dhoni’s centuries against Pakistan A (119 and 120) for a much-refreshing experience. He had brute force. The sixes reminded onlookers of Ricardo Powell’s magical knock of 124 against India in Singapore in 1999. The sight of an Indian batsman tonking huge sixes was, quite simply, unheard of. And of course, the fabled long hair was an early sign of his cavalry.
Back in the day, seldom did you hear a player mentioning a cricket website, let alone acknowledged reading it during a presentation ceremony. Nor did one ever imagine an Indian captain asking the players to simply ‘enjoy themselves’ in a crunch final. Dhoni was the maverick of a new Team India, that would go on to achieve incredible things, including reaching the pinnacle of the ICC Test rankings for the first time.
If Sourav Ganguly ushered India into the new era where players dared to dream, Dhoni took it forward and turned them into reality. India winning a tri-series in Australia, or defeating New Zealand in a Test series on their soil, or capturing the holy grail – the World Cup in 2011 – were achievements India had only hoped to come close to before Dhoni. He turned the years of frustrations of being an Indian cricket fan in the mid-2000s, which struggled to win finals into tales they’d live to tell their grandkids.
And today as he walks off, the heart is filled with gratitude. In the last few years, his ability to reproduce shots of old declined, and Dhoni at times, struggled to maintain fluency in limited-overs cricket. But even on his worst days, the most ardent of Dhoni critics couldn’t help but expect an MS classic to dig India out of trouble. During the WC semifinal when Dhoni and Jadeja were batting, a WhatsApp group comprising journalists believed India could win till MSD was around. One of the messages read: “Feeling toh aa raha hai (I have a strong feeling today.) Usually in such situations, I’ll laugh at India, but I didn’t get the feeling today”, while another said: “Aayega Dhoni hi (Dhoni will come to the fore). He is destiny’s child”. As it panned out, those ‘feelings’ almost came true.
On the eve of the India-WI match, the legendary Dhoni was kind enough to sign a souvenir to mark a journo’s personal coverage milestone. He put a nice finishing touch by adding “Double it up.” The journo said: “Will definitely try,” to which Dhoni replied: “Will be tough. Bilateral series have only three ODIs now instead of five. But you will manage. You are not close to retirement age.”
Wish the same could be said about him!