MS Dhoni’s midas-touched career as a player and a senior statesman, beyond a doubt, has reached its twilight.
Let’s not delve too far into his past record which is otherwise impeccable. It was the first ODI in Chennai this February, when Australia’s Nathan Coulter Nile, reduced India to 11/3. In walked MS Dhoni, who stitched together the innings with Kedar Jadav, Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneswar Kumar to help India put up a fighting total of 281/7. India won that match handsomely.
His next show was at Sri Lanka – the second ODI in Pallekele. Team India was cruising home at 109/0, chasing a modest total of 231. Akila Dananjaya, the Lankan spinner conjured something unnatural that night, triggering the collapse of six India batsmen with seemingly unplayable balls.
Suddenly, the Sri Lankan team rose like a ghost from their past, looking to script a major scare for India. The memory of Ajantha Mendis tormenting Indian batsmen in Asia Cup Final of 2008 appeared to be rewinding itself. But Dhoni was still playing at other end, and he did what he does best. He built a partnership with Bhuvenswar Kumar (53).While other batsmen were playing expansive and expensive strokes; he used his feet agility, bat and body to score runs. He used his trademarks singles and doubles and provided Kumar the platform to play the innings of his career. Cut to the next match, he again sutured a heavy duty partnership of 157 with Rohit Sharma to take India across the line from a stage of 74/4.
His age notwithstanding, people still expect him to play like he is 26. According to many, Dhoni is not the demigod he used to be. He has got his shares of pot-shots and advice from ex-teammates and seniors to make way for juniors for his poor performance this year. However, record books and stats speak something else.
The former India captain scored 632 runs at a brilliant average of 79 playing 20 matches this calendar year. If we look only in ODIs, he has four half centuries and one ton. The players above him are all top order batsmen. Being in the last leg of his career and scoring runs from number six position speaks volumes about this man and what is left in him. It has become a habit of media and people to question players’ ability after they cross the age of 30. Players younger than him are also failing. Let’s not make him a scapegoat for ‘team’ failure. I guess India needs Dhoni more than Dhoni needs India for the 2019 World Cup.
Captaining a side for so long, you take small things for granted and to come back to the side not being a captain, is very difficult. The transition has been smoother than expected like it never happened. Even with Kohli as captain, when field changes or bowling changes are being made, you still see Dhoni playing an active role in it.
Even if it is a Decision Review System (DRS) call, Kohli depends on Dhoni and it’s more or less Dhoni’s call in the end. Well, it has taken the sudden impact and burden of captaincy from Kohli’s shoulders. Kohli is one of India’s premier fielders, and he needs to field in outfield in the final overs.It would be nearly impossible for him to captain the side from outfield. That’s where Dhoni steps up. It helps Kohli to patrol the boundaries freely in final overs. But even Dhoni is careful to not to steal the thunder from Virat. Be it in team meetings, team hurdle or press conferences, Dhoni leaves it to the ever beaming and confident Kohli, to take control and marshal his troops from the front. This has been only possible due to huge amount of mutual respect they have for each other. The duo are expected to do their good work and flourish at least till WC’19.
Dhoni has evolved and moulded as a batsman throughout his career. Towards the end, even his ardent fans will agree that Dhoni is not the lethal destroyer from his prime days, but more the sheet anchor these days. He is playing the role of an anchor around which the team can build. He is not playing the role of a destroyer in the chase, but is allowing someone else to play that role.
During this phase, his expertise and experience are seen to have percolated into younger players like Pandya, Jhadhav, and Kumar. He is not hammering those long towering sixes every now and then, but is still converting ones to twos and twos to threes.
He has played at number six position throughout the span of his career and has done the difficult task of hitting the ball from word go. Now, to get the maximum out his batting expertise and experience, he should play at number four or five so that he gets overs to pace the innings and launch the attack in final overs.
Even during the last innings of his career, he has not dropped a single kilometre in speed while running between wickets. He is fitter than most and his fitness can be compared to any top class international player. Well to put things to perspective, I think that if Dhoni and Usain Bolt run with pads on, well winner would be the 36-year-‘old’-man.
Dhoni brings to table a vast amount of experience, an infallible tactical brain and a sea of calmness which very few in the world can boast of. Virat Kohli plays with his heart on his sleeve but you need someone like Dhoni in the dressing room, who would tell the boys once in a while to enjoy the game and to not bother about the results.
Dhoni, the senior player, plays an important link between young bowlers and their success. You can see Dhoni constantly giving inputs to young bowlers. It may be as simple as where to ball, or field sets to the ball. What it does is that it helps the bowlers learn a thing or two about the game from the master wizard.
Well, coming to his glove-work and skills behind the wicket, there are very few players who have excelled in the game as he does. He comes around with every unorthodox way to fox the batsman. His lightning-fast stumping and smart techniques of run-outs are a revelation in itself. There are very few, or it would be safe to say, none would come close to his wizardry in wicket keeping.
Finally he is someone who came, saw, conquered and left before anyone guessed (Test team and ODI and T20 captaincy). He is the hero India needs, not deserves. He is the silent guardian. And he will be gone, long before you call him a villain for playing too long. He will probably do it silently – with no media grandstanding and no guard of honour. He would walk into the sunset before you’d know.
His favourite song “Main pal do pal ko shayar hun” tell us that even he knows when it is time to hang his boots because the song’s next line is, “Kyun yeh mashroof zamaana mere liye apna waqt barbaad karega.” Till then let’s enjoy the bullet speed stumping and the helicopter shots.