“Thanks. Thanks a lot for ur love and support throughout. From 19.29 hrs consider me as Retired.”- This was the statement on August 15 evening on the official Instagram account of Indian cricket’s most successful captain. Such was the simplicity of former Indian leader cum captain who had left such a dominating impact on the World cricket.
Born in Ranchi, Bihar (then) on 7th July, 1981- he was similar to like any other teenage boy who used to idolize the great cricketing icon- Sachin Tendulkar, one of the prolific Bollywood actor- Amitabh Bachchan and singer Lata Mangeshkar. Showing major signs of interest in the sports of football & badminton in childhood, it was his football coach who found small traces of cricket in the youngster. He started to impress his local coaches through his wicket-keeping skills while representing his team at various club level competition and U-16 tournaments.
The first major competitive domestic exposure of “Mahiya”- as he was known among his close friends was during the Vinoo Mankad Trophy U-16 Championship during 1997-98 season. Soon after, he was selected for the Central Coal Fields Limited (CCL) team. There, he was been mentored by Deval Sahay (former CCL director & ex Bihar Cricket Association VP) who used to gift him Rs 50, whenever he hit a six in the tournament matches. Despite introduction into the senior Bihar Ranji team for 1999-2000 season, he wasn’t selected for the Vinoo Mankad Trophy senior. Slowly, he was being recognized for his hard-hitting and lower order batting contribution for his team. Prakash Poddar, former captain of Bengal in 1960s and then part of TRDW (Talent Resource Development Scheme) – an initiative launched by BCCI who sent report of emerging talent in cricket to the NCA (National Cricket Academy).
The first international exposure for M.S was alongside India A team which toured Zimbabwe and Kenya. He extended the tag of match winner at the international circuit as well, wherein he helped the Indian team to chase target in the tournaments followed. An outing of 362 runs in 6 innings which included a half-century winning knock against arch-rivals, Pakistan gained traction of Indian cricket team captain- Sourav Ganguly and some other members from the selection committee.
The transition from India A to India though came later than sooner for the Ranchi keeper, he smashed the recording books of Indian cricket after registering a 148 off 123 balls against Pakistan in the second ODI of the series. Through these performances, he silenced many waggling tongues which had their say soon after the shaky start to the international circuit. Dhoni started to get opportunities higher the batting order thereafter in the following bilateral ODI series. Having lost Tendulkar early in the 3rd ODI at Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur against the islanders- SL, MS accelerated his innings to a quick unbeaten 183 off 145 balls thereby winning the game for India. On April 20, 2006 – Dhoni displaced the ODI WC winning captain- Ricky Ponting (AUS) to the pinnacle of ICC ODI rankings. Despite the year 2006 saw a slump in his career- be it halting of the runs scored, losing the ODI series against SA (0-4), where Dhoni had just 2 fifties from 16 games and received criticism from the sole WC winning squad (1983) wicket-keeper, Syed Kirmani on his keeping techniques.
His maiden Test hundred too soon followed versus PAK in Faisalabad on which the former Indian cricketer- VVS Laxman shared the incident of Dhoni wanting to retire from the red-ball format quoting “I don’t want anything more from Test cricket.” However, his Test career span lasted for 90 matches until 2014, wherein he registered 6 hundreds including his highest Test score (224) against Australia, which eventually remains as the record of the only Indian wicket-keeper registering a double-ton in the red-ball format.
2007 was the year of ICC ODI Cricket World Cup scheduled in WI and India not only had the huge task of erasing the disappointments faced from the recent tournaments i.e. Champions Trophy 2006 & DLF Cup 2006-07, where the Men in Blue had a mediocre outing at the former tournament when it failed to surpass the Group stages, despite being the hosts. DLF Tri-series Cup too was a disappointment for India as it failed to get better off its other opponents- WI & AUS, managing 1 win off 4 games. The poor form in limited over format haunted the Indian cricket in the ODI WC too, where India crashed out off the tournament after losing to Bangladesh & Srilanka in the group stages. Dhoni, too had a disastrous start to his WC campaign as he scored mere 29 runs from 3 matches, including a duck against Bangladesh which was his 1st game in Cricket WC. Having faced lot of criticism for his poor outing in the Caribbean and a need for police protection from activists of JMM, Dhoni silently moved up the ladder and promoted to ‘A’ grade contract in June 2007, thereby promoting form the earlier ‘B’ grade contract in December 2005.
Having elected as the Vice-captain of the ODI team for the series against South Africa & England, MS was being elected as the captain of the Indian team & soon had a mammoth task of leading the mixed bunch of young & few senior experienced players to inaugural edition of T20 WC in South Africa. The captaincy skills was soon put to test as India indulged in a must-win encounter against their arch-rivals- Pakistan to progress through the Super 8s of the format. Meanwhile, the newly elected captain also came into the limelight of sharing a unique record with his idol wicket-keeper batsmen, Adam Gilchrist. His mind-games behind the stumps & captaincy decisions helped India progress to the finals of the tournament. Dhoni-led Indian team were the only to practice a bowl-out session mid-way the tournament which gave fruitful results as they got the credit against a group encounter game against Pakistan.
India shattered tournament favourites- Australia’s hope of winning the maiden and only missing trophy from the latter cabinet- T20 World Championship as they eliminated the Kangaroos in the SF at Durban. The high-intensity Finals were a first-kind experience, not only for captain Dhoni, but also for player Dhoni along with other members of the squad. However, he kept his nerve under control and showcased his mindset of reading the situations at crunch moments playing doing out-of-expectation moves in the cricketing field. Defending a mere 13 runs off last over, with in-form batsmen- Misbah-ul-Haq on strike, the situation demanded the most experienced spinner- Harbhajan Singh in action. Despite, MS handed the ball and confidence to Joginder Sharma who managed to defend the the target and stood true to his captain’s instinct and bowl according to the field of play being set. The catch by Sreesanth saw the failure of last minute experiment by Misbah which had to bow down to the tactical strategy by Dhoni, which made the latter the 1st captain to grab hands on T20 WC trophy. Also, the victory ended the draught of ICC World Cup in Indian cabinet after a long span of 24 years.
Thereafter, the fortunes of Indian cricket saw a complete change outside the sub-continent as Dhoni marched fearlessly across the world with his troops, won the tournaments against odds and favourites thereby shattering the records at international circuit. Defeating a ruthless Australian squad, who were at peak of its prowess in ODI cricket and the defending champions of the format had to bow down against a transitional Indian squad boasting off the rich experience of Indian maestro- Sachin Tendulkar and their captain- Mahendra Singh Dhoni. 2009 saw Dhoni emerging as a power-horse in international cricket as he made limelight after having topped the ICC ODI batsmen for several months, sharing the title of top-scorer with Ricky Ponting, named as the captain & wicket-keeper of the World ODI XI by ICC.
In 2011, when the ODI WC returned to Indian sub-continent, a lot of expectations were bestowed upon the Dhoni -led Indian cricket team as it had raised the expectations level from its performance since the previous edition. It was a completely different format, looking at its longevity and the Indian squad had the confidence of standing true to the wave of expectations emerging nationwide. Under the captaincy of MSD and guidance of Tendulkar, India had produced match winners in all the departments especially fielding & bowling- the criteria upon which Dhoni urged the selectors to elect the squad. A mix bunch of left-right combinations in the middle-order proved to be the triumph card for India progressing ahead in the competition. With the help of rich-experience of Tendulkar-Harbhajan of facing Pakistan in the WC, India marched towards Mumbai where they were about to play their 3rd ever WC finals. On April 2 at the iconic stadium of Wankhede- it was Dhoni who impressed twice with his decision making ability at crucial situations. Promoting himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh, who was seen in a scintillating form throughout the tournament to join Gautam Gambhir turned out to be World Cup winning bet as not only did the Captain Cool raised his bat for the first time in the competition to celebrate the half-century knock, but also turned out to be a match-winner alongside Yuvraj Singh. The signature “Helicopter sixer” landed in the stands of Wankhede meant India lifted the ODI WC after a span of 28 years and also became the 1st nation to emerge as the “World Champions” at their own backyard. 91* on the scorecard by Mahi earned him the “Man of the Match” in the Finals and an immortal chapter in the books of Indian cricket.
Thereafter, he went on to become the second Indian batsmen after Sachin Tendulkar to aggregate 1000 ODI runs against mighty Australia. Dhoni went on to clinch the 2013 Champions Trophy in England defeating the hosts in rain-driven final. As in 2011, his tactics of promoting himself ahead gathered praises all-over, so did his field placements and tactics to rotate the bowlers in the finals of CT. He earned himself a respectable name not only in Indian cricket, but also received respect across the world for his dominating & long span of captaincy career, which helped India earn the titles and talents which groomed during his captaincy era. India went on to win 7 consecutive games in their quest for the 2015 ODI WC and during the time-frame became the 3rd captain after Ricky Ponting & Allan Border to win 100 matches for his nation. The fact that millions glued onto their television sets in the nail-biting SF clash against NZ in the 2019 WC was due to this man who scored a fighting 50-runs for his team and saved from the verge of an embarrassing defeat. Though he was shy off helping India reach the Finals by inches, he certainly made the millions Indians across the globe through his sheer determination & commitment towards Indian cricket.
Dhoni recently bids adieu to the international cricket, he certainly has left behind a great legacy for Indian cricket to follow which would be cherished by many generations ahead.
MSD was seen donning his Yellow jersey in IPL 2020 in UAE after a long gap of 14 months from any form of competitive cricket, and was seen smashing sixes in all direction in the ongoing training sessions of CSK. Though he managed to score a meagre 200 runs at an average of 25 & S/R of 116.27 (his poorest IPL performance till date), with no half-centuries to his name. However the confidence shown during the toss by quoting “Definetly Not” on being asked whether he would be seen for last time on the cricketing field for CSK, did put a smile on the THALA fans across the globe . The recent announcement from CSK management that he would be in-charge of the franchise for next year did left some happy moments to follow sooner than later.
Thank you Mahi for all the memories you bought along…… and moulding today’s youngsters into future superstars of Indian cricket by giving back to the game in every possible way.