Late last night, pretty much every Indian who follows cricket as a religion came in for a rude shock. MS Dhoni, Indian ODI & T20 team captain had decided to stand down as skipper in both formats and continue just as a player.
Dhoni is without an iota of doubt the very best ODI & T20 captain for India. Infact, he was the person who had brought in the dynamism in fielding & running between wickets into the Indian cricket team. If ever there was someone better than Michael Bevan and deserved the finisher tag more than him, it was MS Dhoni for all his last over exploits. Dhoni gave us many such memorable moments, ill mention my favorite 5 which are etched in memory;
1.India v Pakistan, 2007 ICC World T20 Final
I precisely remember where I was during this game. At my aunt’s place, watching the game with my brother. I remember my uncle calling to ask for a score update and I was on the phone updating him regularly. Last over, 13 needed, and he threw the ball to Joginder Sharma. First reaction, is he mad? After the 6 off the 2nd ball, we all but lost hope. My uncle was still on the line and I am giving him running commentary. 6 needed from 4 balls, 1 wicket to get. Sharma bowls, Misbah goes for a paddle scoop, I tell my uncle, it’s a six(on first impression of the shot), then it dawns. No, it’s a catch.(honestly, Sreesanth always looked like dropping it until he caught it!). I am shouting and jumping at the same time while still being on the phone. India win and thus dawned the era which a few years down the line we will call the Dhoni era.
2. India v Sri Lanka, 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup Final
Yet another World Cup, yet another game I remember where I was and what I was doing. Friends gathered at my place watching the final. Sri Lanka amass 275 owing to a classy century from Mahela and India start in rocky fashion losing big guns Sehwag and Sachin for just 25 runs. Harrowing memories of South Africa 2003 return. Gambhir steadies the ship with his 97(for me, the deserving MOM). Dhoni promotes himself and partners Gambhir to consolidate and bring it close. Dhoni scores 91*(78) and the final 6 to seal the deal will be an image that no Indian watching would be able to forget in their lifetime.
Ravi Shatsri’s words still echoes in my ears:
Dhoniiiiiiiiiiii finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lift the World Cup after 28 years, the party starts in the dressing room and its an Indian captain who’s been absolutely magnificent in the night of the final
Here is something from my archive reminiscing that fateful day; ON TOP OF THE WORLD!
3. England tour of India 2006, 6th ODI
This was the early years of Dhoni the captain in the making. Dhoni actually opened the innings with Sehwag and went on to score 96. This is the innings that I consider ranks highly than any other century he has gotten. The pitch was a seaming track and the Indians were falling like 9 pins. Dhoni with Ramesh Powar for company compiled a well crafted 96. It was disappointing to see him not get that 100 and India lost the match too, but then his innings had really made an impact on me and hence I remember it fondly.
4. India v Sri Lanka, 2013 West Indies Tri-Nation Series Final
One of the matches that brought about the class of Dhoni the finisher. India chasing a meager 201 to win the Tri-Series lost the 9th wicket in the 47th over with Dhoni still at the crease. The target went from 19 off 18 balls to 15 off the last over. He sure loves those last over finishes. Eranga was given the big responsibility. The pitch was not helping the batsmen,so this was Sri Lanka’s game to lose. But, Dhoni had other ideas. 0,6,4,6. Cool as they come. Another trophy in the kitty. They don’t call him captain cool for nothing!
5. KXIP v CSK, IPL 2010
Whatever happens, Dhoni will fondly be remembered forever as captain of CSK. This one from the archive is one of the favorites of every CSK fan. Typical Dhoni territory. 16 needed off 6 balls to qualify for the semi finals. What does Dhoni do? Decimate the bowling off course. And this is even more famous for his ‘helmet punch’ after hitting the winning six. This was a rare show of emotion by Dhoni on the cricket field and surprised many.
But, Dhoni the test captain was a bit of an enigma. In tests, he was mostly resigned to the fact that the fast bowlers were ‘not fast enough’ or are always injured when more is needed from them. He let the games drift(especially abroad) whenever there was a chance to tighten the noose. Cue cut to England in 2011, India took a meager lead in the first innings of the 2nd test and had 2 quick scalps in the second innings, enter Ian Bell, and the game was gone. The game was infamous for the ‘recall of Ian bell after her was run out‘ incident. Then, New Zealand in 2014, yet another 2nd test and NZ were all but out of the game with half the NZ side back in the hutch for less than a 100, when India let them back in the game after a swashbuckling triple ton from Baz and centuries by Watling & Neesham. In the spinning pitches of India, Dhoni was a master and marshaled his resources like a king, but when there was less on offer for spin abroad, Dhoni was always found wanting and was at best a defensive captain.
Overall, 2016 was a decent year for Captain Dhoni, but, the pressure on batsman Dhoni was mounting to no end. His mantra of taking it to the final over began to work less, bowlers had become more skillful and wily while operating to Dhoni and Dhoni was at the receiving end of the pressure quite lately. Dhoni has always been a selfless statesman, be it his retirement from test cricket or the announcement that he is standing down as skipper from the shorter formats and with this announcement, I feel that the 2017 Champions trophy will be his swansong.
or does he still see himself playing the 2019 World cup?
Only time will tell!
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