A niece in Mumbai is in tears; the Hyderabad techie is shocked; our temple priest is distraught; in Lucknow, a rickshaw-puller's heart is unbearably heavy; and countless Chennaites are unable to accept that 'Namma Dhoni' has given up captaincy. Strange, because they ought to be familiar with Dhoni's style — goodbye without notice or fanfare. Dhoni, one of a kind.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni relinquishes the captaincy with a cupboard overflowing with numerous awards, and public adulation in the same frame as Kapil Dev and Tendulkar. Every World Cup, at one time or the other, came to India when Dhoni was captain. Few remember him stepping up to receive any of these trophies, but everyone recalls as though it were yesterday: the towering hit to long on, the twirl of the bat, and an unhurried plucking of one stump as a souvenir, as Dhoni walked off the Wankhede pitch that night in 2011. As though it was just another day in office; as though he was completely unaware that he was bathed in glory.
Even at 26, when Dhoni won his first T20 World Cup, he was not at the forefront of celebrations, but busier peeling off his jersey and giving it to a young boy. No surprise that as he grew older, he featured even less in the photo ops. That placidity and almost contemptuous disregard for whether the team had won or lost — that was no façade.
Everyone agrees he was an outstanding ODI and T20 captain, but some accuse him of being less interested as a Test captain. For us, that's an unfair summary. Dileep Premachandran of Wisden India told us one must view Dhoni's captaincy in two phases — before 2011 and after 2011. Before 2011, he had the fab four, Sehwag, Zaheer and Harbhajan at their peak, and his captaincy reflected that. But post-2011, these players were on the wane; the fab four exited, Zaheer, Harbhajan and Sehwag were spent forces. Dhoni had to bide his time while India licked its wounds and rebuilt their team.
Even at 26, when Dhoni won his first T20 World Cup, he was not at the forefront of celebrations, but busier peeling off his jersey and giving it to a young boy
That is why one of his finest victories was the 2013 Champions Trophy in England. India had just taken a series of knocks in Test cricket. No one thought India, a team in transition, was a serious contender. But Dhoni and his team created magic, won every game, and India were almost perfection personified.
We close with something very dear to Dhoni — his respect and admiration for India's armed forces. Perhaps his proudest moment was the investiture ceremony when he was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian Territorial Army. We won't be surprised if Dhoni is associated with the armed forces in some significant manner in the future. After all, when India retained their No. 1 Test ranking at Kolkata in February 2010, Dhoni gave his jersey to an officer of the Indian Army, a Shaurya Chakra winner. In that photo, you can see the Indian captain is prouder than the Army officer as the jersey exchanges hands.
'Cricketers like Dhoni come once in a century,' says Gavaskar. That is no hyperbole. There is no one even remotely like Dhoni — wicketkeeper, batsman and captain in every form of the game. Let us enjoy a final few years of Dhoni the wicketkeeper-batsman, who, as his comrade Ashwin suggested, will 'wield the bat wild'!
From Mumbai to Durban: India's Greatest Tests, written by S. Giridhar and V.J. Raghunath, is available on www.juggernaut.in and bookstores.
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