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Home / More Lifestyle / End of an era: Dhoni’s bowing out, changing Indian cricket forever

End of an era: Dhoni’s bowing out, changing Indian cricket forever

Dhoni seems to be at the end of his long road to retirement. He may not play for India again, but he will always be one of the best cricket captains we’ve ever had

more-lifestyle Updated: Jan 25, 2020 17:27 IST
Abhishek Paul
Abhishek Paul
Hindustan Times
Dhoni hasn’t played a competitive match since India’s semi-final loss to New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup last July
Dhoni hasn’t played a competitive match since India’s semi-final loss to New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup last July(Illustration: AJAY THAKURI/ HT)

It’s like that feeling you get when you start watching the last episode of a long-running TV series. The likelihood of a predictable conclusion and an impending emptiness don’t keep you from lapping up every detail.

And you treasure those last moments — Pablo Escobar and his beloved Medellin on that fateful rooftop in Narcos; that final battle against the White Walkers in Game of Thrones.

Something similar is happening in Indian cricket. Something expected, yet unmissable. MS Dhoni seems at the end of his long-winding road to retirement.

Last week, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) removed the former India captain from its centrally contracted players’ list — a group 25-odd players, divided into four grades, deemed to be among the top performers and hence guaranteed a fixed minimum sum for the year.

Depending upon performance, players might get added to the list, left out, promoted or demoted. They are chosen on the basis of performance in the most recent season or with a potential to mature, as defined and determined by the BCCI.

Dhoni hasn’t played a competitive match at any level since India’s semi-final loss to New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup in England last July. Quite expectedly, he is not in the squad playing the T20 series that started in New Zealand on Friday.

Dhoni has made himself unavailable for selection for the India team since the World Cup ended. So he must have known his name would be struck off.

In fact, it would have been far more contentious had Dhoni still made it to the list, at a time when the most we see of him is on social media, making a snowman for his daughter or rehearsing with his wife for a TV ad. 

But the man in question is Dhoni. The only captain to win three ICC events, a master finisher, and most vitally a hero to generations of cricket fans — from those who’d never seen India win an ICC World Cup till he led the team to victory in 2011, to those who’d been waiting almost 30 years to see it happen again, waiting since Kapil Dev first worked his magic in 1983.

As soon as the BCCI announced its decision to omit Dhoni from its contract list, #MSDhoni and #ThankYouDhoni began trending on Twitter.

Despite not being among the centrally contracted players, a cricketer can still get onto the India team. For instance, pacer Khaleel Ahmed, who is not on the list of centrally contracted players, was part of the India squad against Bangladesh in a T20 series last year.

In that sense, being excluded from the list doesn’t signify an end, especially not for a player of Dhoni’s stature. As for his legacy, there is no end to that.

When he first entered the Indian dressing room, Dhoni’s appearance made him stand out. A muscular boy from Ranchi with a mane dyed red, he looked something of a misfit in a room filled with people named Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble. 

But slowly, steadily, his unconventional style yielded results and he rose to the throne of captain. The 2007 World T20, the 2011 World and the 2013 Champions Trophy triumphs ensured he went down as one of the greatest Indian cricket captains ever.

But as the years went by, the old hitting prowess gave way to a more calculative approach; he seemed happier to play second fiddle and guide the youngsters on the other end to the finish. So much so, that there were questions about whether it was time for Dhoni to make way for some of those youngsters.

The numbers on Dhoni
  • # MS Dhoni is the only cricket captain to have won three ICC events
  • # He has played 350 ODIs and has scored 10,773 runs. He also has played 90 Tests (4,876 runs) and 98 T20Is (1,617 runs)
  • # He debuted for India against Bangladesh in December 2004, with a duck
  • # Dhoni hasn’t played a match since India lost the 2019 World Cup semi-final to New Zealand last July
  • # Dhoni will play in the next Indian Premier League, as captain of the Chennai Super Kings

After the 2019 World Cup loss, Dhoni addressed the unasked questions by making himself unavailable for selection, and the BCCI selectors went for younger wicketkeepers such as Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson.

But his is not a legacy that will fade. He will always be the captain who could singlehandedly swing a match in his team’s favour; the man who proved that it’s okay to be unconventional; the person under whom India’s Men in Blue truly became world champions.

In July, Dhoni turns 39. A heroic comeback is now more a hope than a practicality. His omission from the central contract list is just another reminder to his fans that time is perhaps running out.

But it’s Dhoni. So you never really know, do you?