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Dhoni The Player, The Captain & Indian Cricket

MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni (left) has retired from Test cricket - a move that few saw coming
©REUTERS / Action Images
 

When he celebrates after taking a catch, behind the stumps, flinging the ball high, and jumping up in joy, commentators get excited; excited that they got a glimpse of the excited Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Dhoni doesn’t get excited. When Dhoni gets angry, he sounds normal. When Dhoni is normal, he is usually making quirky, trademark ‘Dhoni’ statements, mostly weird, witty analogies. For a very long time, he was the darling of the Indian media, of Indians.

Then, something changed. India lost four in a row in England. India lost four in a row in Australia. India lost at home to England. India lost 3-1 again in England. Dhoni, whose stature, at one point, almost eclipsed Tendulkar’s aura in India, was now a scapegoat. Who knew? Cricket is a fickle game.

Cricket followers are fickler. Eventually, when Dhoni retired himself from Test cricket, in trademark Dhoni style, in a move no one anticipated, even second guessed, there were very few eulogies.

Mostly, it was a collection of sighs, some of relief, some of nostalgia, some of plain boredom. The baton has finally been passed. New players, new mindsets, new captain. The last man standing, the last real connect to the fab Indian era has come to a closure.

Will Dhoni, the skipper be missed in Tests? Not so much.

MS Dhoni - Test Statistics

Matches: 90

Runs: 4,876

Average: 38.09

100s: 6

50s: 33

Catches: 256

Stumpings: 38

First Test:

After all, how is it possible to do worse than what India has in their overseas tours of the last couple of years? If anything, they could only move up. They talk about Dhoni’s defensive tactics even in schools, the kids, who think cricket is all about aggression, of grabbing the opportunities.

They already like Kohli, who coaxed their love when he was furiously guiding India in a grand chase, a chase they managed to frustratingly ruin, themselves.

Will Dhoni be missed behind the stumps? Not really.

Wriddhiman Saha, for a really long time, has been projected as the best keeper India never had, now have, something he would never have imagined.

Will Dhoni the batsman be missed? No, no one would think so.

He was impressive in the most recent tour to England. He usually puts his hand up when the chips are down. But, Dhoni the Test batsman is not even a shadow of Dhoni, the ODI batsman. The former almost looks like a nervous schoolboy in front of the composure and arrogance of the latter, the professor, who almost always knows the right solution for every problem.

In a way, Dhoni knew his time in Test cricket was up; that, he probably, for the first time in years, didn’t command his inclusion in the side. The pragmatist that he is, the street-smartness that made him the most successful international captain in terms of trophies won, Dhoni walked away into the sunset at the right time.

MS Dhoni - Test Captain

Matches: 60

Won: 27

Lost: 18

Tosses won: 27

First Test: v South Africa in Kanpur, 2008

Dhoni didn't lose a Test as a captain until February 2010 - his 12th match in charge

Probably, the greatest sign of Dhoni’s wisdom was that he never ended up being the elephant in the room. If anything, he could’ve played for a little longer. But then, he didn’t really care much for the hundred odd runs that would take him to 5000 Test runs, the six dismissals that would take him to 300, the guard of honour, the laps, the adoration, the press.

He never cared. In a way, he was always a step ahead, wherever resources permitted, whenever strengths permitted.

Dhoni, the captain, won 27 and lost 18 in 60 Tests. Respectable. He has lost just three in India, two in one series where for the first time in decades, the opposition spinners were better than the Indians. Respectable.

Only against England, has Dhoni lost more Tests than he has won, as skipper. Respectable again.

Any cricket analyst will tell you, that those stats that Dhoni, the skipper had, would have been a lot different had he been blessed with the bowling attacks of Australia, South Africa or even England.

So, to make Dhoni responsible for India’s losses isn’t as unfair as it is ridiculous. Nevertheless, he was at helm during one of the most depressing phases in Indian cricket and it would be hard to keep the hems of his legacy untainted by the poor record.

A nation tired of his subtle quiet probably needed a refreshing change in Kohli’s aggression. Dhoni knew, probably. He had seen the transition period through. He had made sure, that the crux of the team is in place.

He had made sure, we had a backup skipper. He made sure, we had a good bench.

In other words, Dhoni gets ticks on most counts, for being a captain with a lot of foresight. Dhoni probably left a legacy, ironically, by not caring for his legacy.

In times to come, Virat Kohli might forge an aggressive team that plays with a fiery spirit. Cricket, might not be quirky, under him; more war. That might work overseas for a team not short on talent.

That might ensure, that a nation in a frenzy about its cricket, gets its due. But, even that shouldn’t really eclipse what Dhoni did, from the time Kumble walked away into the twilight, to the time the Rahanes, Kohlis and Pujaras replaced the old warhorses.

Mostly, he ensured, the transition wasn’t a mess, like it is, like it has been for some other teams, at the end of their great eras. That phase, he handled as the baton was passed down, was probably Dhoni’s legacy, greater probably, than acquiring the mace for being the best test team.

If Shastri’s words about how good this team could be in 12 months comes true, Dhoni will still be one of the few people, Indian cricket fans should be genuinely thankful to.

© Cricket World 2015