First, a disclosure: I am an unabashed MS Dhoni fan. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that when I first met him, he warmly shook my hand and said, ‘there are only two journalists who I respect. You are one of them, the other is Prannoy Roy.’ Maybe, he was just being polite, but my son who was within earshot was mighty impressed. More seriously, I like MSD because I believe he has been good for Indian cricket. Dhoni is the prototype of the new age Indian cricketer: blessed with oodles of self-belief to back undeniable skill. Indian cricket has never been short of talented cricketers, but it’s in the age of Dhoni that we’ve seen the true efflorescence of the aggressive cricketer who will never take a step back.
In the early 1980s, Kapil Dev sparked off the revolution of the small town Indian cricketer who would defy convention and conservatism in the sport. Dhoni took that tough, never say die spirit to another level over the last decade. As a fast bowling all-rounder, Kapil had the audacity to bounce the best in the world and to once hit three sixes in a row to save a follow on. As a wicket keeping all rounder, Dhoni too was sui generis: every time he took a one day match to the last over, you almost sensed that he was confident of pulling off a spectacular ‘helicopter’ shot that would take India to victory. There hasn’t been a better finisher of the one day game: the bowlers seemed more intimidated to see Dhoni at the crease than any nervous energy the batsman may have had at the end of a tense game. Is it any surprise that Kapil and Dhoni are the two Indian skippers to lift a World Cup? Both are cricketers with a certain X factor that is needed to win tight limited over contests.
Maybe, Dhoni couldn’t translate the magic to test cricket: maybe a long drawn out format sat uneasily with a cricketer who was a product of the age when cricket has become instant entertainment. Certainly, as test captain, Dhoni had his limitations and at times seemed to switch off in a five day match. In overseas conditions, his loose technique was often found out, And yet, he did lead India to the number one spot in test cricket and did it without changing either his game or his demeanour. Indeed, the remarkable aspect of Dhoni’s success is that he never seemed to allow the surround sound of being captain to affect him nor did the enormous riches of being a star athlete ever sway him. He remained calm on the field, unruffled off it. If the pressures of captaincy were getting to him, he never showed it. If allegations of ‘conflict of interest’ in his avatar as Chennai Superkings icon were serious, he didn’t seek to challenge them publicly. His aggression wasn’t a Ganguly or Kohli style in your face bravado; he preferred to be the silent warrior. Even when we won the World Cup in 2011, there were no histrionics. Now, when he retires from tests, you sense he would like to quietly fade into the sunset rather than be awarded a special send off. There is a Zen-like composure to MSD that is most attractive in this age of hype. As he once told me with his trademark broad smile, ‘when you’ve done the journey I have from Ranchi, you like to always look at the positives in life.’
Playing cricket for India was then not just a dream for MSD, it was a bonus. Which is why he is unique: a streetsmart cricketer who liked to do things his way, who excited crowds with the sheer power of his strokes but also encouraged his teammates to stave off pressure and emulate his no nonsense attitude. Which is why Indian cricket will miss him when he retires from all forms of the game. Till then, all one can say is: Thank You MSD. And yes, do play the helicopter shot in the World Cup in 2015 too!