MSD has retired and how! The man after having conquered billions of hearts has just moved into oblivion without much fanfare. MSD’s journey and traits encapsulates everything that is synonymous with New India and his Instagram message on retirement was just one sample. Hailing from a small town with great aspirations, climbed up the ladder through hard work, supremely confident, led from the front, never afraid of speaking out, not averse to taking big decisions laced with risks, not scared of failure, staying practical when it came to dealing with seniors, remaining cool, humble, staying out of the limelight and finally not feeling entitled. All these that describe the man are all that the India we live in today can connect with. Following his fascinating journey that ended a few days back would throw up instances of him exhibiting these traits.
Coincidentally, one can see all these characteristics in our PM who is shaping this New India. And like Modi he too inherited the captaincy of the team when things were going downhill after the 2007 WC disaster, confidence of the people on the team at its lowest. He took it as a challenge and turned things around. Let me keep aside my temptation to find more similarities between the 2 captains for some other time and focus on some moments capturing his qualities.
To start with, he didn’t have much backing but through his hard work made the strides. Took a huge risk, something he did all along his career, leaving his job to focus on his passion and finally it paid off. After some initial failures his career took off with a century in his 5th innings and what followed was something which one can just dream off. From there on he started finishing games consistently. Coming in down the order he made it almost customary, along with Yuvraj, to take the team through. As a result of that India, under Dravid, went on to win record consecutive chases – 17 on the trot. Then 2007 WC happened. Things started going downhill for the team and personally as well as public protested outside his home after an early exit. All this caused by the Aussie coach Greg Chappell who tried to change too many things too quickly without understanding the Indian psyche. That left our cricket in tatters. The scar it left was too deep. It was told that none of the seniors wanted the mantle then with some people recommending Dhoni’s name for captaincy and also opting out of the 1st T20 WC. The selectors were forced to take a chance and name Dhoni as the captain giving his 1st challenge with a relatively new team with quite a few unknown faces. To some extent that helped in keeping the expectations low.
His decision making and risk-taking ability was in full display throughout this tournament. 2 distinct moments to call – his choice of bowlers in the bowl out against Pak and the most talked about decision to get Joginder to bowl the last over. India scripted a famous win over the traditional rival and from then on MSD went from strength to strength which culminated in him winning all 3 major limited overs ICC tournaments. Along the way India kept winning several ODI series where we had never won before.
As a player he had immense self-belief. He never let the pressure get onto him something he himself has said on many occasions. He believed that if he stayed till the end he can help the team cross the line. In fact, lots of commentary has been written on how the pressure was on the bowler in that 50th over. Before Dhoni the world had seen Michael Bevan finishing games with such regularity. However, where MSD stands pout is the sheer number of matches he has won, aggregate runs scored (10,000+) and that too at a phenomenal SR and most of them with the burden of captaincy. For a generation which grew up on giving up hopes the moment Sachin departed his cool demeanour was something refreshing. The TV sets would still be on as people started to believe that Dhoni would pull it off. And the more the match went deeper the higher went the hopes. 2011 WC final was one such instance when yours truly kept watching even after Malinga silenced the crowd, something I didn’t in the 1996 semis against the same opponent. And boy he didn’t disappoint. The image of the bat swing off Kulasekara would remain etched in memory forever.
As a captain he always led from the front. Coming in at 5 in the all-important final encapsulated this trait more than anything. He knew he had to guide his team through when the match was interestingly poised. He set such high standards with his fitness and having set an example wanted others to emulate. He couldn’t take any excuses on this front and portrayed his trait of speaking out. He was vocal about the slow movers hurting the team making the selectors realize that ignoring him could result in the team failing. He was pragmatic in his thinking, he knew everyone had a shelf life and beyond that would be a liability. Yet, he didn’t undermine or disrespect the seniors. He knew that for all practical purposes for the ODI team to move forward we had to think beyond the legends given how the game had moved on and become fast paced. Yet, he realized they had something to give in the longer format. He gave their due and what a gesture it was Ganguly to lead the team for a couple of overs in Dada’s last test. In effect he achieved what Chappell as the coach set out to achieve but his practical approach showed how it should be done.
Coming to his most talked about characteristic – the one that earned him the title “Captain Cool”. He remained unmoved in victory or defeat. Probably if people were asked to guess the result of the match by just looking at Dhoni most would get it wrong. It is a mystery that how could he keep his emotions at check for so long. It is so easy to recollect the times he punched his fist or yelled or let himself go – one such rare occasion that comes to mind when there was an outpour of emotions was after yet another last ball heist against KXIP. That took CSK to semis and they went on to win the IPL that year. He made it a tradition that after a tournament triumph he would let the youngest member to lift the cup and would slip into the sidelines.
Finally, to end the way he did brought out the best of all his traits – staying humble and putting country first. Neither was there a grand announcement nor was there a sense of entitlement. For a man who gave the country plenty to cheer about none would have grudged a farewell match even if it came at a venue of his choice. But then he knew the nation owed him nothing though he was the architect of billion people’s happiness, not just once but many times. That, to me, is the important trait our New India is putting on in the last few years rejecting all those who think they are entitled. Similar to the way he used to finish off games with ease he ended his career, living up to the tag of “Ultimate Finisher”.
The remarkable journey, punctuated with his various qualities all along, has come to an end. Thank you MSD – you bow out as arguably one of the greatest exponents and best ever captain white ball cricket has ever seen.