Well done Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Goodbye to the most intimate outsider in Indian cricket. Goodbye to the captain and the batsman who is not afraid of victory. In a country where cricket is a religion which transcended across religions, Dhoni could see the game as a game.
As a batsman, his technique perhaps reminds one of the jugaad Indian mindset. I think that rather than genius or craft, it was his raw instinct of survival and success which made him an effective batsman. Though he had the ability of brutal big-hitting, Dhoni comes in the clan of Michael Bevan in batting. He was successful in that phase of the game where temperament did matter than talent.
It is the Dhoni in the death overs, which defined him as a batsman. He had the calmest nerve of all. He knew the art of catching up with higher rates without taking risks. He could internalise that a couple of hard-ran doubles are equal to one boundary. His game was more calculative. That’s why in test cricket, where talent and skills endure, Dhoni couldn’t prove to have the same stature. He didn’t have the genius of Sachin or intensity of Kohli, but, he had the smartest cricketing brain.
Even while captaining in death overs, the nails in the hands of him were always in its place, unlike Saurav. As a cricketer or captain, he was neither afraid of death nor worried about life. He seems to be unaffected by the result so that he could navigate the game to results he wished. Insisting on avoiding celebrations after the victory in Australia proves his mastery of the psychology of the game.
As a Captain, perhaps he is also blessed enough to have launched at the right moment, which was the declining phase of mighty Aussies, which ensured, his calmness was not confronted with something as unbeatable as the team of Steve waugh or Ponting in the late 90s and early 2000s. He also had a Yuvraj Singh who peaked at moments which mattered the most. His aggression or tactics didn’t have the endurance to succeed in the largest format, like Saurav. But unlike Saurav, he made his bravest call in a world cup final, where Saurav, perhaps for once, trembled in front of a successful toss.
Perhaps the most underrated impact Dhoni brought to the Indian team is by being a wicketkeeper who is averaging better than most batsmen. Australia had Gilchrist. Sri Lanka had Sangakkara. South Africa had Boucher. India had none. That was the struggle, Saurav Ganguly had suffer which made him risk Rahul Dravid to keep the wickets after trying a bunch of specialist ones. At last, Saurav himself found Dhoni to end the agony. But the twilight has already begun for dada, by then.
Dhoni transformed the game in more than one way. He made wicket-keeping, a role which had no star value, a glamorous one. He introduced Indian batsmen to the art of chasing. He showed the craft of leading from behind. He carried the innate Indian wisdom of Nishkamakarma which ironically made him an outsider in Indian cricket, an intimate one.
Perhaps his final phase of the career as a batsman was uncharacteristic as the team and himself failed to define the role of him as a batsman in the squad. He struggled to land those helicopters and get those cheeky singles in his final phase. Still, he played an important role for the team with the inexperienced, short-tempered Virat Kohli as it’s captain.
As ironic as it sounds, perhaps the fastest and smartest of the runner between the wicket has ended his career by falling short. As tragic as it sounds, he couldn’t finish it off in style one more time which made India knocked out in the world cup semi-final. I am sure, though a die-hard Indian fan might wonder what-if he made a dive or what if he could cross one more inch, Dhoni will never look back at that moment again with regret. Because he knew the game is just a game. As the animated voice of Ravi Shastri echos in our ears (“Dhoni finishes off in style“), Dhoni will walk off unaffectedly, unceremoniously, unlike any of them.