Play

Once Dhoni, always Dhoni

Akshay Lokapally | Updated on August 21, 2020 Published on August 21, 2020

Keep calm and carry on: Cricketer and captain Dhoni planned and executed the game to a degree that had seldom been seen before   -  PTI/ MANVENDER VASHIST

Indian cricket’s smooth operator bids goodbye to the sport in a style that is truly his own

* Dhoni chose Instagram as his trusted messenger, and bid farewell to cricket in just 16 words: “Thanks a lot for ur love and support throughout. from 1929 hrs consider me as Retired”

* His willingness to withstand pressure helped fans and colleagues develop an unshakeable trust in him, he would tell reporters

* His fascination, rather reverence, for the armed forces — spending time with them in Kashmir, giving them company on the borders — was an integral part of his character

In life, people come and go, but only a few leave an imprint on our collective library of memories — to be cherished and revisited over time.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s exit from cricket, too, will go into this hall of memories — along with his achievements in the sport. He chose Instagram as his trusted messenger, and bid farewell to cricket in just 16 words: “Thanks a lot for ur love and support throughout. from 1929 hrs consider me as Retired”. The words were few, yet enough, and they delivered the message emphatically. The Instagram post, with a caption and a reel of pictures from decisive occasions of his career, evoked not only the best cricketing moments for a fan like me, but also poignant parts of my life journey.

Dhoni’s fan-base spans all age groups. Our first rendezvous with the Ranchi man was at different points of time of our lives. Those who grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s were finishing school and college while watching him keep the wickets and steadily transform into the icon that he is today — something that the Indian team desperately needed after the era of stalwarts such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Virender Sehwag. Dhoni filled that gap, displaying his talent behind the wickets as well as with the bat, and slowly and unsurprisingly, became a definite source of leadership. He became the ODI captain in 2007; Test captaincy followed the next year. Dhoni as captain has won praise from players of every generation and that is what defines this wonderful athlete, so very supreme on the field and so down to earth off the grounds.

Dhoni’s demeanour with teammates — standing by them in good times and bad — remained unchanged through the years. His closest friends were from his school life and his childhood coach continued to influence his growth even as he conquered international peaks. As captain, he commanded seniors as well as juniors with the same respect. His advice to youngsters — often recounted by them — was the motto by which he has lived: “When you walk into a building, your attitude for the people below should be the same as for the people at the top. Always respect your elders.”

Cricketer and captain Dhoni planned and executed the game to a degree that had seldom been seen before. Ganguly had given birth to the aggressive side of Indian cricket and Dhoni went on to extend it further. But there were no cracks in his composure as he did so, or at least he never showed any. His willingness to withstand pressure helped fans and colleagues develop an unshakeable trust in him, he would tell reporters. He showed us what it took to be a game changer. We saw him stretch a leg in order to stop a seemingly out-of-reach ball. We watched him sprint for a single on seeing the opposition laze. We admired him when he used a fielder to trap an unsuspecting batsman. We also held our breath when he signalled a bowler to throw the ball in a certain direction to help him stump the opponent.

Dhoni deserved every bit of the iconic status he had attained. His appeal to the youth of today was unmatched. He could hold his own in a galaxy of celebrities. His fascination, rather reverence, for the armed forces — spending time with them in Kashmir, giving them company on the borders — was an integral part of his character. He loved attention but he also loved sharing the limelight with others.

Dhoni’s ride to the top also had its fix of bumps and potholes. He suffered extreme reactions from “passionate” followers of Indian cricket — the ones who often use the sport as a tool for jingoism. So-called fans burnt his effigies and pelted his Ranchi residence with stones when India couldn’t make it past the group stage in the 2007 ODI World Cup. It shook him from within, he told the media, but he never let it show. He came back with a bang a few months later, leading India to victory in the first edition of the T20 World Cup with a fantastic win over Pakistan in Johannesburg. India’s second World Cup victory in the 50-over format came four years later, also under the leadership of Dhoni.

Did Dhoni, now 39, delay his departure? Would it not have been ideal if he had walked away after the 2019 World Cup? His desperate attempt at avoiding a run out was an image that did not fit his persona. Dhoni struggling? Impossible! But he was, as we saw, a human after all, pushing himself for another stint at glory.

With all the passion in his heart, he wanted to see himself walk the exalted turf, with his shirt screaming his name to the applauding crowd. And it is exactly this memory he will carry home, leaving us with our own to cherish an icon like him.

Akshay Lokapally is a Delhi-based writer

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on August 21, 2020
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor