There are times when a writer finds it impossible to put into words the life of an individual. In most cases, finding words of praise for a person with some accomplishment is easy. In very rare cases, it becomes difficult to know where to even start. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is that individual. Where does one start describing such a cricketer!
Dhoni is an iconic cricketer who is now a cult figure. But cult figures, too, come with flaws. Surprisingly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has none.
When Dhoni abruptly retired from Test cricket, it became a talking point. There was much debate on his sudden departure from the most reputed format of the game. Who gives up Test captaincy and a career on the threshold of a hundred test matches?
Dhoni’s remarkable quality is to make an honest self-assessment. During the 2014 Border-Gavaskar series in Australia, he had not led the team well as per his own high standards and perhaps he did not want the team to pay the price of his lack of captaincy form. Cricket is a unique sport where the role of the captain is much more than in any other team sport. We, as followers of the game, often overlook the form of a captain. Captaincy is also about form. Perhaps Dhoni had realised that he had lost captaincy form for a long period of time in Test matches. He quit with minimum fuss and no fanfare. It was one of the most brutal decisions that an Indian captain had inflicted on himself. Most test captains are either sacked or asked politely to resign. Not Dhoni. He was always one step ahead of the game.
Dhoni wore many hats
In the World Cup final in 2011, Dhoni promoted himself in the batting order to tackle the great Muttiah Muralitharan. It was an iconic innings. He was the first skipper ever to lift the World Cup trophy in front of his home crowd. Dhoni was the first skipper to successfully absorb the pressure of the expectations of the host nation to win a World Cup title. In this regard, Dhoni is the master of them all. Pressure never showed on his face even once. As a batsman, he would take the game deep and then unleash the final assault on the opposition bowlers. Dhoni had nerves of steel both as a batsman and as a skipper while defending totals with his shrewd bowling changes. He made bold bowling changes as a skipper.
Another attribute one saw in Dhoni as an international player was his self-confidence. When Dhoni became captain in 2008, there were many great players in the team. Such was his confidence that he led his team of stalwarts with ease. Dhoni is one of the finest captains ever to play the game. His temperament as a cricketer is now part of folklore. Future cricket historians will marvel how such a man captained with such consistency in so many major ICC tournaments with so much success. He won all the major ICC tournaments that he captained Indian in.
As a wicket-keeper, Dhoni did not put a foot wrong. Few stumpings were missed and few catches were spilled. Who can forget the reverse throw that Dhoni would hit on the stumps without even seeing them as he would have his back facing the wickets? He was as safe as anyone that has ever kept at the highest level. As a keeper, his anticipation of the batter wanting to sweep was immaculate.
Perhaps what is forgotten is a rare cricketing skill that only few have. He is one of the fastest runners between the wickets in the history of the game. In the 150-odd Test matches that I have had the good fortune of watching on the ground since 1980, I have rarely seen anyone run faster between the wickets. Dhoni was like lightning when he ran between the wickets. Dhoni the batsman was a thinker. His grit and determination in the second innings of the first Test in the 2007 series in England saved the match for his team. India went on to win that test series on English soil.
Who is Dhoni?
The question that we need to ask then is: who is Dhoni? Is he the attacking batsman who could hit even a yorker for a six? Is he the gritty batsman who could save a Test match? Is he the astute captain with nerves of steel? The safe wicket-keeper who rarely made a mistake? The super fast runner between the wickets? The truth is that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the rainbow of Indian cricket. He is also a mental giant. An icon who is the cult figure of his times. Young budding cricketers would do well to keep Dhoni as their role model. It is thanks to MS Dhoni that any cricketer in any remote corner of India cannot only dream of playing for India but also captaining India. His conduct, his calmness and his humility makes him a great cricketer.
Not all cult figures are humble. Mahendra is that rare cult figure who is genuinely humble. He never showed any sign of nerves on the cricket field. This is so much more remarkable because he did not have the grooming of a big town boy. It was as if nature had bestowed upon him all the calmness of the world. On this day, the 7th of July, a great sporting son of India was born. We are fortunate that MS Dhoni is still playing some form of cricket. Today is an opportunity to thank Dhoni for what he has done for Indian cricket. And yet, he is so simple and unwilling to take his cult status seriously.
As a writer, it’s very difficult to explain the cult figure that Dhoni is. It defies all logic. It’s almost impossible not to like him. A man from the east of India has demigod status in the south of India. It’s because he has taken Indian cricket forward in a true sense. He has ignited the cricketing fire in every nook and corner of the country.
Kush Singh @singhkb is founder, The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.