After 16 years in India colours, Mahendra Singh Dhoni left the international stage much before the deadline. Having witnessed from close quarters several high-profile departures, most of them delayed, Dhoni knew the pitfalls of over-staying in the dressing room. In Indian cricket, your reputation and past records can only ensure the opening applause that lasts till the time you walk down the pavilion stairs and reach the crease. The moment the famously fickle Subcontinent cricket fans spot vulnerability, they pounce. Late in his career, questions were being asked about Dhoni’s role in the team. However, till his last game, the erstwhile finisher remained the team’s harbinger of hope. The man who preferred to be on the fringes of most team celebrations — Dhoni, extreme left, back row — left on his own terms. Win, lose or on the edge of retirement, he never lost his poise or perspective.
Those tracing Dhoni’s footprints on India’s cricketing mega-scape would be spoilt for choice. The boy from Jharkhand proved that mega-stardom was not the preserve of pedigreed players with refined skill sets. Dhoni joined the national team during the days of Galacticos, cricketers scientific in their approach and vouched for by the coaching manual. It was an era when Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman were talked up as Beatles Plus One. In the Indian dressing room, at the high table of talent, Dhoni, with his tennis-ball circuit borrowed helicopter shots, was the Average Joe. Blame it on the tenacity and that chip on the shoulders of self-made small-towners, Dhoni didn’t mimic the greats. He had respect but he wasn’t in awe of seniors. While his contemporaries — Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Zaheer, Sehwag — settled in comfortable coteries, Dhoni kept a distance from the team’s several power centres. Later when he went on to be the captain, he would have his own trusted aides. Dhoni was a born leader, he believed in tight groups, but he was no groupie.
So what next for Dhoni? Known to keep the world at arm’s length, he doesn’t show his emotions or reveal his plans. In these times of trending opinions and popular twitter stands, he doesn’t believe in public pontification. He is a one-of-kind celebrity who is an influencer without being the slave of social media. Settled in a farm outside Ranchi, he is a consummate recluse. Who knows, the next step of the natural-born leader and influencer could take him closer to public service — the grandest sport.