Dhoni's retirement, coming in the middle of a series, is shocking. Rarely does a captain let go of a team's reins when a series is on.
Perhaps he had mentally made up his mind that he won't continue in test cricket. He had given some indication of this in the last tour to Australia where he had said that the burden of playing in the five-day format was too much. It took him almost three years since then to make the difficult decision.
Another important factor perhaps was that this series is now lost. India needed to win this match to be in contention, and now it's drawn. He had hoped that he can set the record straight this time after a poor record in Tests overseas under his captaincy. He would have wanted to go out on a wining note. Today it became clear that won't happen, and the series is lost. That might have prompted him to retire immediately.
Under him, India has slumped rather badly in Tests. In 2011, India was the top ranked team in the world, and he was the captain. But since the England tour that year, India fell fast in the test rankings. Today we are at sixth in the test rankings.
This year, criticism has been growing from all quarters, including former players and captains such as Ian Chappell. It has almost reached a crescendo. His reputation has taken a beating. On top of that, he has been embroiled in the IPL controversy through insinuation and association with Srinivasan, in the Supreme Court. All of that must have resulted in mental strain that might have contributed to this decision to retire.
Also, just from a cricketing point of view, he is now 35 and must be feeling fatigued both mentally and physically from playing so much cricket in all formats. So I think it's a sound decision to retire and focus on playing one dayers and T20s, which means less time on the field and less burden. Test cricket is like a game of chess played over five days, and he doesn't want more of that.
His successor, Virat Kohli, is the new hope now. Everyone is bullish about this young player. So Dhoni might also have thought that he is coming in the way of a rising young talent who is ready to captain the team.
Most Influential In A Decade
Looking back, he was easily the most influential player in the last ten years. Under his captaincy, India won both the T20 world cup and the ICC World Cup in 2011. He hit the winning shot to win the world cup, something we will always remember him for. In the T20 final, he gave the final over to Joginder Sharma, and that turned out to be a winning bet. He holds all wicket-keeping records in India, and was also good with the bat in limited formats of the game. He was also Captain Cool, undemonstrative on the field. For a player coming from Ranchi, which isn't one of centers of the game players normally come from, he rose not just to be a member of the national team but to be its captain. That's remarkable.
His rise was an inspiration to players in tier 1 and 2 towns. In Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, millions know him as 'Dhoni Bhaiyya'. His helicopter shot was also special. I don't know anyone else who has played it. It was a mark of the rusticity he brought to cricket that won't happen with players coming from more orthodox centers such as Bombay or Delhi.
Apart from his success on the field, he also became a very wealthy man with numerous endorsement contracts for top brands. On the field, his captaincy was surely better in the first half than the second. Despair in test cricket overseas was clearly visible. But overall, it has been an extraordinary career.
As he retires, he has been successful in bringing in a set of youngsters who can form the next great Indian team. One of the setbacks he faced was that players did not play to their full potential—be it experienced players or new entrants. Under Kohli, the younger lot needs to find a sense of purpose and ambition to actualize their potential.
(As told to Anirvan Ghosh)