Greying beard, a hint of baldness, a thickset frame, and the weight of Indian cricket on his shoulder – that was MS Dhoni at the start of 2015. The new year, though, couldn’t have started more differently. A year after Test retirement, the finish line seems near. Sentimentalism is in air. Is he ready to pack up and leave cricket after the T20 World Cup?
He just smiles when you ask that question. A colouring brush has spruced up the beard, a crop of hair has knocked off couple of years, and fat burn in hips has given a ‘v’ shaped definition, and he looks the most relaxed he has been in the last couple of years. “I am still 87-88 kgs that I have been in the last 15 years but I have toned down. I have enjoyed doing it and have had fun.”
Someone whispers that he has opened a fancy gym recently.
It’s the retirement question, though, that hangs in the air. We are at the press conference before the team’s departure to Australia on Tuesday night that also saw the BCCI awards night in a suburban hotel lawns in Mumbai. The man who announced his Test retirement in the middle of a series wasn’t going to make a grand farewell statement.
“I am somebody who has always believed in the present,” he warms up after the smile. So you won’t get the answer about future that is too far ahead. As of now, the Australia series is important. Then, after we get into the T20 groove, we should move in one direction to what we need to do as a team so that we have the best chance of winning the World T20. Those are primary concerns right now, I have not thought beyond that.
“There are lots of things to think about and this is not the right time. All the energy and resources need to go in one direction and that is the Australia series going into the T20 world cup. It’s a very important three to three-and-half months.” That whimsical smile surfaces again.
Later on in the evening, that smile surfaced again, this time in a different context altogether. Syed Kirmani, who was given the life-time achievement award, was blunt. When Harsha Bhogle, the compere for the awards, asked him to dwell on the difference between the ‘keepers of his era and the modern generation, Kirmani couldn’t resist. “Technique. These days it’s just about results. Dhoni has produced it.”
It seemed almost churlish. At least, that’s how couple of Kirmani’s contemporaries and even his seniors in audience perceived it later on as the bar opened on the lawns. Even as Kirmani had barely finished his remarks, the big screen cut to Dhoni, who flashed a smile. Who knows what he really thought at that moment. Perhaps, nothing much, for he continued to be in a good mood later on.
As he passed the open bar – the players had to leave immediately as they were catching the 11.30 pm flight to Perth – one asked him. You sure you haven’t lost weight? A three minute reply on fat, muscle, definition ensued. What about the grey hair though? “Colour rey!” And the new crop of hair? He just laughed at the question, turned around and disappeared into the hotel. Perhaps he has found some new hair oil or serum. Or maybe not.
The media conference had thrown up the usual Dhoni comments on the need for all-rounders, how the No.6 position, untenanted after Suresh Raina’s sacking, is such a difficult position and that he shall have a decide whether Gurkeerat Singh or Manish Pandey can do that job or he would have to fill up the spot. He also praised R Ashwin, who won some bouquets at the BCCI award for being ICC’s Test bowler of the year, and was as ever frank in his assessment.
“Ashwin had started off well. He slightly went down (later). When you are new, not many know but with videos and everything, people tend to know. Only thing I kept telling him was ‘when you are not doing well, people will talk a lot about your variations. To me the only difference is, for example, if you are bowling all your variations in 2 X 4 area, now you are bowling in 4 X 5 feet area. That is the only thing lacking. (hinting that Ashwin was perhaps all over the area in his down days). Other than that you don’t have to worry about anything. He is a thinking cricketer and once he came back, he has been a different bowler and a great asset in all formats. He is somebody who I have always relied. He is not someone who I have bowled after 10th over but I have used him the first 10 and also, from 40 to 45. He has been good for me, made my job slightly easy.”
India had done well in the 2015 World Cup in Australia but they hadn’t done well in the tri-series and were also shown the door by the Australians in the World Cup.
Dhoni obviously knows it and he framed the upcoming series thus: “Australia have always been a team which plays competitive cricket, so it will be good for our team also. You always gain more experience, it will be good and with a few youngsters around, who will get a chance to play, it will be interesting to see them perform.” Indeed. And also the man himself who is perhaps on his last lap in international cricket in what has been an incredulous journey so far.