No cricketer, not even Sachin Tendulkar has had the kind of impact on Indian cricket than Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Known to the world as Captain Cool, Dhoni has achieved a triple – something that no international captain has done in limited overs cricket. A World T20, a World Cup, and a Champions Trophy. In addition, he has a 61.28 per cent success rate while leading Chennai Super Kings in the IPL.
What makes Dhoni so special? Well for starters, he epitomized the idea of India. A small-town boy who dreamt of making it big, Dhoni’s story was so inspiring that his tale was told while he was still an active player. The only other sporting icon in India whose story was told while they actively represented India was another small-time hero – MC Mary Kom.
Before Dhoni Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel and other cricketers had been spotted by Ganguly and had represented India, but most Indian cricketers were from the city and had better access to facilities. Dhoni made use of what he had and made it to the top, which is why his story is more interesting than Tendulkar’s.
There are naysayers of Dhoni, particularly after India lost eight Test matches against England and Australia right after the euphoria of the 2011 World Cup. People cricitised Dhoni’s style of captaincy, saying that it had ‘become too pedestrian’, and that he had run out of ideas.
He took the criticism well, and would give tongue-in-the-cheek replies when he was questioned at press conferences, making journalists laugh in the process. The naysayers – this writer included – were critical, arguing that he looked tired.
Then he proved us wrong. While leading India in the 2013 Champions Trophy, Dhoni showed the world once again why he was ‘Captain Cool’. In a final that was reduced to a 20-over a side match thanks to rain, Dhoni marshalled his troops like a general and when it came down to the rubber with R Ashwin’s superb bowling, ensured a victory thanks to tactical field placing. For someone who did not emote much after hitting that iconic six of Nuwan Kulasekara at the end of the 2011 World Cup, Dhoni jumping for joy after India’s five-run win, told a different story.
Nearly a year later, he decided to call it a day from Test cricket and said that he would focus on his limited overs career. I had written a piece for DNA at the time, saying that despite the 8-0 loss against England and Australia, history will be kind to MS Dhoni.
Six years later, I take back what I said. History won’t just be kind to MS Dhoni; history will immortalize him as one of India’s all-time greats. A man who kept his cool when things got heated. A man who played the diplomat during times of controversy, and a man who both teammates and opposition members could talk to in case the going got tough. His teammates in CSK, who are international cricket rivals, are living examples of it.
Unlike Tendulkar, Dhoni did not get a farewell series. The coronavirus pandemic ensured that, unfortunately. But he knew that had he stuck on, critics would continue with their criticism. And while we won’t see him in blue anymore, Chennai fans know that they have their ‘thala’ all to themselves now.