Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s historic image of holding the World Cup trophy at Wankhede is still immortalised in Indian cricket’s folklore but not many know that Indian cricket’s arguably the best ODI captain was once a ticket collector at the Kharagpur railway station. But that’s life – once celebrated as a hero, of late is being seen as a villain. Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Captain Cool as he is popularly known as now stands at the cusp of glory and infamy.
Son of a Paan Singh and Devki Devi, Dhoni had come a long way from some humble beginnings and once desperately needed a job to sustain his cricketing pursuits. The search of a job took the Ranchi boy, who had already played for Under-19 Bihar cricket team in the Cooch Behar Trophy, to the city of Kharagpur in West Bengal.
The late Animesh Ganguly, the then Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) of the South Eastern Railways (SER) and a cricket fanatic, was not only searching for a ticket collector but also a cricketer who could fit into the SER team. As luck would have it Dhoni not only cleared the TTE exam but also became an integral part of the SER cricket team.
You can hardly imagine the Indian captain checking tickets but the truth is not only did the wicketkeeper-batsman carried out his duties with integrity but also made a name for himself while playing tennis-ball cricket in the sleepy town of Kharagpur. While playing for a couple of top clubs, Dhoni’s appearance price even reached to Rupees 2,000 per match. Dhoni’s life in Kharagpur was all about cricket as has been with his life so far and his hard work and never-give-up spirit finally landed him in International Cricket in 2003.
From the very beginning, Dhoni managed to strike a unique chord with the country’s booming young population, a great many of whom hails from outside India’s metropolises. In many ways, Dhoni’s career seems a great symbol of the hopes of this generation, the way Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar — upper-caste, middle-class Mumbai natives — epitomised the dreams of another kind of Indian.
Indian Cricket was at rock bottom in 2007. After a devastating relationship with coach Greg Chappel, Sourav Ganguly had lost captaincy and his career was on the decline. To make the situation worse, in the most embarrassing world cup display, India was thrown out of the world cup after the group stage.
From this ashes of the 2007 debris, Dhoni emerged as the savior of Indian cricket. He was a street smart wicket keeper batsman. His style of play remained rustic and with the right amount of improvisation and guts the team needed. He had the fearlessness image needed in the modern era of cricket where T20 was becoming equally important as test and ODI cricket.
The most successful part of Dhoni’s captaincy was his formula of the run chase. Back in the day 300 plus scores were regarded unassailable. It was a common one-day strategy to post a huge total and put pressure on the chasing team. If the required run rate was too high, even the best teams couldn’t hold on to their nerves and fail. Dhoni forever changed that philosophy. In 2007 Dhoni was named T20 captain and he led India to win the T20 World Cup. In 2008 he was appointed captain in test and ODI forms as well which commenced the golden run of Indian cricket. Under the leadership of MS Dhoni, the Indian cricket team enjoyed a long run as the number 1 test team in the world and also won the 2011 world cup.
His calm demeanor and power play like the famous helicopter shot chased down totals earned him another accolade – the great finisher. Dhoni could single-handedly finish any chase. He did so majestically in the 2011 world cup final and on several occasions before and after that.
Sadly nothing lasts forever. after the 2011 cricket world cup, Dhoni’s star began to fade. It all started in test cricket. Given a mediocre team with unexceptional batting and bowling talent Dhoni had to conceal under more and more defensive strategy in his test game. He ceased from being attacking and playing to win to start defending and playing to avoid defeat. In contrast, fresh blood Virat Kohli was playing test cricket with the same audacity as Dhoni in his early days. Thus 2014 Dhoni surprisingly but not incorrectly retired from test cricket.
But his short format star was fading too. Dhoni himself was aging and no longer had the strength and stamina to continue as a big finisher. Changes in one-day rules threw his tested chase formula for a tailspin.
After a disappointing performance in Australia, everyone had given up hope of India accomplishing anything in the 2015 World Cup. But Captain Cool had one more ace up his sleeve, though. India surprised everyone with their world cup performance not as chasers but as a bowling team who was the only team to take all 11 opponent wickets in all games up to the semi-finals. Although, India lost the semi-final but their resurgence gave people hope.
It may not have been the victory Dhoni dreamt but it was a great euphoric high to call it quits. India actually surpassed all odds and expectations, Dhoni could have left with his head held high. But he decided to fight and keep going. The rest is a forgettable melodrama. His failure with Rising Pune Super Giants raised questions again: Is it the right time to retire from ODI and T20 also?
Once regarded as the nation’s hero now faces some more important questions. The next World Cup is three years from now on, so does Dhoni himself believe that he will be part of the Indian team then? If yes, then in which role — as a wicketkeeper-batsman or as captain?
If he doesn’t seek to lead the team in three years’ time, is MS Dhoni worth to be selected as a player alone, assuming he will have no problem to continue playing under Virat Kohli?
The ODI and T20 series wins in Zimbabwe will surely give Dhoni at least some space to breath. Sadly this is how Indian cricket works. Not to mention he will get ample time to revitalize himself before India’s next ODI series at home against New Zealand in the last week of October.
But when the selection committee will sit to discuss it, they will demand answers to these crucial questions. By then Anil Kumble, the new coach will certainly have spoken on the current ODI/T20I skipper’s future.