It was bound to happen some day. When it happened, it happened in typical Dhoni fashion, with minimal fuss, away from the limelight and without a tinge of regret. As the baton passes from one superstar to another, tributes came pouring in for India’s most successful captain and the lasting imprint he has left on Indian cricket, despite having had a humble start to international cricket. Some people are just destined for greatness.
A big hitter in the T20 mould to start with, the long-haired Dhoni as captain was a gamble that became a historic leap for Indian cricket. Year after year, he took India to unimaginable heights with shrewd decision making, a mental dismantling of the opposition and an unflinching faith in his own thinking and ability.
Here are five reasons why MS Dhoni was India’s most loved captain:
#5 Funny stump microphone conversations
“Oh Sree, udhar girlfriend nahi hai, idhar aaja thoda”.
Dhoni knew his players well enough to deal with them in his own inimitable style, with his quirky, sometimes comical voice from behind the stumps.
Despite scaling unprecedented heights, Dhoni never changed himself around his players, employing the same friendly, albeit crude way, of addressing his troops, knowing how to best communicate with the players so that they play to their potential.
Commands like “Iski ghanti baja de”, and “zara chakka kha ke dikha” from behind the stumps will be sorely missed. The viewers got to hear only those that were inadvertently recorded by the microphones, no one knows what other gems he churned out over his decade-long career as an international captain.
#4 Leading from the front
It has been documented and discussed enough, but will be reiterated – Dhoni’s decision to promote himself up the order, and to perform on the biggest stage despite misfiring throughout the tournament goes to show the tenacity and mental toughness of the person to thrive despite the chips being down.
Dhoni is one of the few players who revelled as a batsman while captaining a side, averaging 44.23 as a non-captain and 53.93 at the helm of affairs. He changed his game for the team, employing a more calculated approach and surrendering his gung-ho attitude with the bat.
As a captain, he had the liberty to bring himself up the order, but he rarely treated himself to such an opportunity, staying buried under the middle order and giving lesser known faces the platform to shine when the going was easy. He won the Man of the Match in 15 of the 199 ODIs he played, the fourth most by any captain.
More than all of that, it was his ability to saunter into the middle and tonk bowlers for sixes effortlessly that made him the darling of the crowd and a nightmare for international bowlers, who reprised the role of gully cricketers when faced with Dhoni’s batting exploits.
#3 Unique bowling changes
The pressure might have traded his black mane for grey hair, but Dhoni hardly let it show on his face, always looking to out-think the batsman with his surprising, sometimes outrageous changes. Lady luck shined bright on him, but the audacity to pull off astonishing decisions with a straight face was a marvel in itself.
It started off with the act of using Robin Uthappa and Virender Sehwag in their bowl-out against Pakistan in the 2007 World T20. While people hail him for sticking with Joginder Sharma in the last over of the tournament’s final, the team wouldn’t have progressed had he not pulled up a masterstroke by selecting three slow bowlers for the bowl-out, a trick that his opponents messed up badly.
As years passed, he repeated the deeds with multiple others. Keeping faith in Ishant Sharma, who bowled like an inspired man in his second spell in the Champions Trophy in 2013, giving the ball to an inexperienced Ravichandran Ashwin in the final of the 2011 World Cup, or more recently, including Kedar Jadhav’s unheard off-spin in the bowling line-up against New Zealand that surprisingly resulted in wickets: all were instances of his street smartness and immense belief in his understanding of the game. The rawness, impromptu decision making is non-pareil, and will surely be conspicuous by its absence.
#2 Keeping cool
Mushfiqur Rahim was sure he had done it. As he ran across after hitting a boundary off Hardik Pandya, he pumped his fist in the air, having taken Bangladesh a stone’s throw away from victory in their World T20 fixture at the Chinnaswamy.
Then there was MS Dhoni, his keeping counterpart, standing calmly behind the stumps, calculating scenarios in his head and hatching a plan to snatch the bait from inside the lion’s mouth. Bangladesh needed two off three, but Dhoni was sharp enough to effect fielding changes, take one glove off and coolly sprint to the stumps and out-run a teenager to seal the match by a run.
Even with matches slipping away from his hand, he used to have a deadpan expression on his face, always ready to somehow solve the problem by wearing his unflinching demeanour and cucumber-cool approach.
As captain for the Rising Pune Supergiants last year, he endured a torrid season, with injuries derailing a promising debut season, but was calm enough to drive them home against Kings XI Punjab by hitting 23 runs in the last over, sealing the match with a six to show he’s still the best finisher.
#1 The results
MS Dhoni walks into his house to a cabinet filled with just about every major trophy there is to grab. The World Cup, the World T20, the Champions Trophy and the IPL titles, all were pocketed with style, deeming him fit to be called India’s greatest captain ever.
The most experienced captain in world cricket, MS Dhoni boasted of a higher win percentage than his predecessors in ODIs: Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin.
What makes the victories sweeter is that the paths to those triumphs weren’t rosy, and Dhoni & Co had to brush aside the odds. He carried an inexperienced side to his maiden captaincy assignment, the World T20 in 2007, and returned with the title. In 2011, he shrewdly managed a concoction of youth and experience to juice out the best, and the result was there to see. For CSK, he developed a core group around whom the team revolved, winning two consecutive titles.
He helped realise a twenty-eight-year-old pending dream, and walked off to the sidelines after steering the team to victory.
Some people are just destined for greatness, others create their own destiny. He’ll walk away eventually, but his legacy will stay.