MS Dhoni: a tribute to the legend
Year 10 pupil Aditya Muthukumar has kindly submitted an article he wrote for 'How's That' - The Journal of Mensa Cricket, for any alumni with a fondness for cricket.
Indian cricketing legend MS Dhoni
Flashback to 2011. Feels hard to think of a time before COVID-19, doesn’t it? Anyways, in our previous home in Nottingham, my dad and I are sat in the living room watching TV. Suddenly, I see some person hitting the ball high in the air and into the crowd. Just 5 years old, my innocent, tender and young mind is astonished “How can he hit the ball so long and so far?” I ask my father for his name. He says “Mahendra Singh Dhoni”.
Yes, I know it sounds like a scene from a film, a bit far-fetched, but it is true - that is my very first interaction with cricket. And ever since, I have followed the game closely, my relationship with the game getting stronger and deeper as the years go by. But I have always, always been a Dhoni fan.
Now, let me begin with a disclaimer. I am not the typical diehard teenage fan you might expect with his room dotted with posters of his idol, crying his head off when they fail or buying their jersey, no matter how much it costs. No, I am not any of them. A passionate cricket lover, I follow all cricket around the world but I don’t get to watch a lot being a school student.
Nevertheless, Dhoni is someone special for me. For me, it is his amazing finishing capabilities; no matter how difficult the situation is, he seems to finds a way to get out of it. Whether it’s for India or CSK, this statement is downright true - “The game is not over until Dhoni is out.” I was thinking of highlighting a few examples but let’s be honest: there’s too many! But it is not just that. He has so many other virtues.
You think of Dhoni, and you think of calm. He is so calm, composed, collected and just cool. Captain Cool, his nickname so appropriate for him, has rarely shown his emotions on the field of play. I mean, all you’ve got to see is his reaction after hitting the winning runs in a World Cup final. No big fist pump, run around the ground or any show of great emotion - just a look in shock and a small bat twirl. He is so calm that the instances when feelings have gotten over him stick out like a sore thumb, at least for a Dhoni fan.
His rather exuberant reaction to taking CSK to the IPL Final in 2010, him getting cross with Kuldeep Yadav after the chinaman leggie didn’t listen to the “300 ODI played” Dhoni on a field placement and Dhoni losing his cool in IPL 2019 as he stormed onto the field of play due to complete confusion. Just a handful, only a few instances in his hundreds of cricket games. That is what an unbelievably calm person is made of. I can still recall Suresh Raina once saying that he would be all worked up, focused on the target at hand and he would see Dhoni just still and cool and think to himself “What am I getting worked up about? Even the captain is cool about it.”
Dhoni will also be remembered for his unique, successful, excellent style of captaincy. I mean, any captain who has won a T20 World Cup, an ODI World Cup, 3 IPLs, 2 Champions Leagues, taken India to the top of the ICC Test Rankings, I think it’s fair to say, knows what he’s doing. His ability to get players on the same page and perform for him, whatever their ability, form or age, is beyond belief. He also has had the knack of backing players who otherwise would have been dropped from the team and instilling trust and belief in the player, leading to positive results. Just ask Shane Watson.
And let’s not forget his brilliance with the gloves. If you watched his biographical film M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story where the now late Sushant Singh Rajput plays Dhoni, you may recall how he was originally a keen goalie and then when his school cricket coach was looking for a keeper, he found Dhoni. His unique yet effective technique has ‘stumped’ several batsmen and his reaction speeds, lightning quick. He is the third most successful wicketkeeper in terms of international dismissals (829) behind Mark Boucher and Adam Gilchrist.
May I also mention the fitness culture he brought into the team? Under him, fitness standards were increased and he was one of the fittest of the pack. Rapid between the wickets, he is renown for his fast running and countless quick singles and doubles.
He didn’t come from the more well-known cities of Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata. He came from Ranchi in Jharkhand, not known for its cricketing talents. Slowly he worked his way up, striking boundaries at will and racking up runs in white-ball cricket. He also faced setbacks in his career including ineffective communication leading to him missing an India A tour and satisfying and assuring his parents that he’ll be able to make a living out of cricket.
However, through the BCCI’s Training Research Development Wing, he got a spot on the A-team trip to Kenya and on the front pages. Soon after, he got his debut against Bangladesh in 2004. An anti-climactic start, he was runout for nought on debut and a few low scores followed. However, the then-captain Ganguly persisted with him and promoted him up the order. And Dhoni grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He obliged by scoring a mammoth 148 off 123 balls in 2005. Later the same year, he amassed 183* vs Sri Lanka, the highest ever score by a wicketkeeper-batsman in ODI cricket.
His efforts were starting to reap rewards as he rose to No. 1 in the ODI rankings in just 42 matches, still the quickest to get there. He was also given the captaincy in the new format on the block, T20Is. And as we all know, he failed to disappoint, bowling Joginder Sharma in the final over versus Pakistan in the ICC World T20 Final, Misbah scooping, Sreesanth catching and a billion people falling in love with a format - all because of a young team led by a capable, long-haired tactician. And boy did India like the format - they even started the world’s richest cricket league with it!
He was also handed the test captaincy in due course and captained India to several wins. Then came the pinnacle of his career, wrapped in a piece of commentary that is arguably the most memorable of all time in our beloved sport, a quote etched in every Indian fan - “Dhoniiiiii...finishes off in style…a magnificent strike into the crowd…India lift the World Cup once again after 28 years…the parties start in the dressing room…and it's an Indian Captain who has been absolutely magnificent in the night of the final." Dhoni playing a captain’s knock of 91* to guide India to its 2nd World Cup win.
As with most teams, the transition period wasn’t the smoothest for Dhoni as India faced huge losses against England and Australia. But once again it was the resource management and astuteness of Dhoni that resulted in the triumph of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 against England.
Dhoni’s Test captaincy continued to be under the pump despite some gutsy lower-order performances and some hard-fought wins. This finished with a shock retirement from Test cricket after the Boxing Day Test draw at Melbourne in 2014, stating the workload as the reason behind it. This decision caused a lot of surprise in the cricket circles as Dhoni was just beginning to form an excellent team which would go on to win several matches overseas.
However, focusing his attention on limited-overs cricket, Dhoni led India to the 2015 World Cup semi against Australia but couldn’t get to the finale. Dhoni was the lone-warrior like several times in his career as India fell 95 runs short. This followed the blip in the World T20 final in 2014 in Sri Lanka and India couldn’t quite get to the end yet again in 2016 at home as West Indies trounced them in the semi-final.
Dhoni stepped down as the captain of the Indian ODI and T20I team in January 2017, the end of a quite remarkable captaincy career and style.
My hero didn’t have many more heroic moments after that as his skills, ability and role in the side changed. Criticism came packing but he still kept going. Then, on July 10 2019, a billion hearts were broken. Martin Guptill fired the ball in from square leg and one of the fastest pair of legs in the game, Dhoni, fell short by a couple of inches. I still remember this moment vividly. I was actually on a coach on our school trip to Germany, my mobile data not working. Luckily one of the teachers managed to connect his phone radio to the school coach audio and I remember hearing of his dismissal. Little did I know how close it was until I got to watch the highlights when I got to the youth hostel.
Before bringing the article to a close, how can I not mention his exploits in the IPL? The 2nd most successful captain by titles and one of the league’s legends, Dhoni and CSK share a special connection. However, if you remember, this was completely by chance. When the league kicked off in 2008, all the teams took 1 marquee player who was based close to their city. So, Mumbai took Sachin, Delhi took Sehwag, Kolkata took Ganguly etc. However, hailing from the modest background of Ranchi, Dhoni had no immediate home and that was when Chennai came into the picture. They snapped him up as the then most paid player for 6 crores and he has remained with them ever since. The auctioneer for the IPL for 10 years, Richard Madley, said in an interview this year that the call of ‘sold’ on MS Dhoni remains his most important sale in the IPL.
Dhoni immediately, riding on the back of the success of winning the T20 World Cup, took CSK to the final of 2008, only to be beaten by a young Rajasthan Royals led by Shane Warne in a last-ball thriller. In 2009 they got as far as the semis. The Super Kings were 3rd time lucky, however, as they trounced Mumbai to be crowned champions. This final is particularly remembered for Dhoni’s unorthodox field placement to counter Kieron Pollard which worked wonders. Their success continued as they beat Bangalore in 2011. After establishing their dominance in the IPL, they continued their form into the now-defunct Champions League 2010 to be crowned winners there as well.
The record of entering the top 4 every year stayed strong (and still is today) as they ended runners-up in 2012 and 2013, Dhoni the lone fighter in the final against Mumbai in 2013. They were trounced by Kings XI in Qualifier 2 the year after and then came the black mark in the Super Kings history - the spot-fixing scandal ending in a 2-year ban for the Super Kings and the Royals. Despite the adversities, Dhoni still managed to rally his troops as Chennai were runners up once again. The reason I am going on about Chennai’s history is because T20 is such a captain-driven game and Dhoni has been pivotal at the helm and cornerstone of the team to lead them to such successes.
The spot-fixing saga led to a 2-year ban as Dhoni was bought by the Rising Pune Supergiants. He struggled with several injuries and an inexperienced team ending 7th in 2016 but was key in Pune reaching the final next year under Steve Smith’s captaincy.
The return in 2018 was a seriously emotional one and the team failed to disappoint on a rollercoaster ride of a season. Leading the “Dad’s Army” comprising mostly over 30s with vast experience, CSK won nail biters, defied logic in some cases and batted their way to the title. However, this was the return of Dhoni after a lean patch for India as he hit boundaries and smoked sixes showing glimpses of his old self. 2019 was yet again a good season for Dhoni and co., again falling short at the final by an agonising 1 run to the Mumbai Indians. 2020 will be an interesting year for the team as their mainstay Raina and seasoned Harbhajan have left camp due to personal reasons and all the players are one year older.
Dhoni has always been someone who doesn’t like the big finale or making a mountain of a molehill. And he also has his own ways of… doing everything. Whether it be utilising the famous helicopter shot, having his own technique for keeping or just being unique in general he is one of a kind and forever will be one of a kind. Dhoni is Dhoni. As a person from a Tamil background myself and an ardent Chennai fan, the term ‘Thala’ suited for him is well understood. The exact translation being ‘head’, it is only given to the best of the best, the most famous people in Tamil Nadu.
Mahi’s retirement was also an interesting one of that. After his heart-shattering run out in Manchester, he was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t feature for India and was even taken off the central contract list. Experts, commentators, analysts, fans, presenters, journalists - everybody was speculating about when the inevitable would come. Eventually, in his own style, on Indian Independence Day, through an Instagram post containing a video of pictures of his career with his favourite song in the background, he announced his retirement “Thanks a lot for ur love and support throughout.from 1929 hrs consider me as Retired.” Yes, I know. Surprising, shocking, inventive. Call it what you like but it was a momentous day in world cricket. A giant of the game who will be renown for his limited-overs exploits and captaincy hung up his boots, Captain Cool style.
Thank you Mahendra Singh Dhoni for all the memories. It has been a treat. A truly wonderful cricketer, captain, wicketkeeper, finisher and, of all, person. Now off for me to find my new favourite. Only after watching “that” six for the gazillionth time.
Love you Dhoni.