Minutes after the post-match presentation ceremony at the MCG, M S Dhoni told a team official that he urgently wanted to get in touch with BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel. There was a very important message that had to be conveyed. A shocking announcement in fact. The Indian captain of six years was abruptly retiring from Tests after having helped his team draw the third match of the series Down Under.
Not long after, a teary-eyed Dhoni gathered his teammates for an impromptu huddle in the dressing room and dropped the bombshell, leaving them astonished and devastated. Then around 45 minutes later, the rest of the world experienced the same shock.
As it turned out, even the BCCI secretary is reported to have been lost for words when Dhoni told him about being done with donning the whites for the country. Once he found his voice back, Patel asked the 33-year-old veteran of 90 Tests whether the decision had come about on the basis of the series loss in Australia. Dhoni insisted that was not the case. He also said he had made up his mind to concentrate only on ODIs and T20s. Patel then reassured Dhoni that the board had no plans whatsoever of replacing him in the near future. But Dhoni, at 33 the youngest Indian Test cricketer to retire, stuck to his decision.
Patel then inquired about the abruptness of the decision and suggested that he could delay it till the final Test of the series in Sydney, which starts next week. Dhoni passed the offer, saying there was no point in him turning up for the match simply for the sake of playing in it. Unlike the recent well-choreographed last Tests of several greats, Dhoni wanted his departure to be understated.
Back home, even those closest to him didn’t have the slightest clue about his plans to retire. In Mumbai, his manager, Arun Pandey, went silent for several seconds when asked for his reaction. “I spoke to him just yesterday, he didn’t say anything,” he said. There were reports that suggested that even his family didn’t know that Melbourne would be his last Test.
After breaking the news to the BCCI secretary, Dhoni asked if he could inform his teammates. The senior board official said he could do so and that he would prepare an official press release in the meantime.
Dhoni told Patel that he would call him up again before heading to the dressing room to deliver the news. He first gathered all the players together and said he had to talk to them about an important issue. It started with him telling them about how difficult it had become for him to play in all three formats of the game. Then came the killer punch, as he revealed his decision to quit Tests with immediate effect.
Two minutes into his address, Dhoni broke down, tears running down his cheeks. Many around him had misty eyes. The emotional scenes continued for a while as Dhoni exchanged hugs with everyone in the Indian camp.
Meanwhile, Patel told the BCCI office to hold back the press release till Dhoni finished his customary press conference.
Dhoni then turned up for the press conference. There was nothing to suggest that this would be his last as Test captain. He spoke about a variety of issues with his characteristic tact, even claiming that he was ready to play out the remaining four overs of the day as he had already played 14-15 overs by then.
“Maybe they were too tired to bowl four overs,” he said before adding, “That’s a very Aussie answer I have given. Generally I would say ok, ok.” Dhoni then laughed. So did everyone else in the room. He was being his usually witty self. Nobody could have guessed that he had been through one of the most emotional moments of his life just minutes ago.
But in many ways, this defined Dhoni. An instinctive batsman, he never seemed to have the technique to last in Test cricket. Yet he did. He left experts and cynics around the world absolutely baffled with his rustic style of batting and his often intuitive approach to Test captaincy.
His technique may have been bereft of aesthetics but still he scored runs around the world, scoring 4876 Test runs at an average of 38.09 with five centuries to boot, including an inspirational 224 at Chennai that set up a 4-0 clean-sweep of Australia last year.
His captaincy attracted criticism till the very end, but he led India in more Tests and clocked more victories than anyone else in history. With him at the helm, India won an away series in New Zealand, and also recorded historic wins in Durban, Lord’s and Hamilton. The fact that he won only two out of his last 21 Tests away from home might stand out like a sore thumb but it was under him that India reached the No.1 ranking in the traditional format of the game. His last act in whites was to save a Test for India at the MCG. The ball was reversing and the Australians had been given a sniff. But Dhoni blunted them out in his own enigmatic fashion.
For he is an enigma. An unfathomable mystery man who ridiculed conventions, someone whose mind nobody could ever attempt to even read. And in true Dhoni fashion, he galloped off into the sunset, leaving everyone around him absolutely mystified.
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