With a 16-word Instagram post, accompanied by a 4.07-minute video compiled from frames of his storied career and a brooding Bollywood song about the transience of life and fame in the background, M S Dhoni announced his international retirement.
He was last seen wearing India colours in July last year when he left the field after his heartbreakingly close runout in the World Cup semi-final, a dismissal that dashed a billion dreams.
Most pundits said Dhoni was past his prime and had played his last international game. And yet, not known to take rash calls, the man who led India to two of its three World Cups titles, chose his time and moment to say goodbye.
On Independence Day, Captain Cool and the honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army, put out a farewell note that simply said: “Thanks a lot for ur love and support throughout. from 1929 hrs consider me as Retired”.
Be it his career’s biggest triumph or his last day as India cricketer, he remained understated. Once again, this was the classic no-fuss Mahi, the ever-reliable finisher who always ended the game with his trademark nonchalance.
He also didn’t disappoint those who tagged him as an enigma since the time he made his debut as a Tarzan-haired, milk-guzzling hard hitting wicket-keeper from Jharkhand in 2004. Intriguing, the most-admired modern-day Indian cricketer, chose a melancholic number, ‘Pal-do-pal ka shayar’ from ‘Kabhi, Kabhi’, penned by the poet Sahir Ludhianvi as his last song.
As his Insta montage shows him with Tendulkar in one frame and Kohli in another, the late playback singer Mukesh, the king of sad songs, croons: “Kal aur aayenge, mujh-se behtar kehne-waale, tumse behtar sunne-waale, kal koi mujhko yaad karen, kyun waqt apna barbaad karen ?” (Tomorrow more stars will come, those who speak better than me, those who listen better than you, who will remember me tomorrow, and why would they waste their time?”).
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Finally, there was something Mr Midas had got wrong. Remembering him can never be a waste of time for fans. Cricketers with better skills and statistics will wear the India jersey, but the one with No.7 will never be forgotten. Dhoni’s body of work has guaranteed him unending fame in the cricketing world.
In the farewell video, there were no images of him in a yellow jersey. It means the IPL show is still running but the defining chapter in the Indian cricket history is well and truly over.
Dhoni redrew the Indian cricket plan. He also changed the mindset of the team, and its fans. First, as a reliable batsman and later as a captain, he kept hand-holding the team through crises. With him at the crease, the country’s historically anxious fans were at peace. A nation that used to switch off their TV sets as soon as Tendulkar would get out all through the 90s was now staying invested longer. Dhoni ensured that India was relaxed on match days. Even if Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Ganguly got out, Indians looked at each other reassuringly and said: “Dhoni hai na”. The country, known for its loud emotions, had a new brand ambassador who was emotionless and uber cool.
Dhoni’s rise also coincided with the time when the Indian cricket field was widening as players from smaller towns were making their way into the national team. However, the decision-makers in the dressing room were still from the metros. The urban and English-speaking seniors, Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ganguly, Kumble, were calling the shots. Dhoni, Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel were skilled and match-winners but they were still seen as footsoldiers. Tags like Fab Four were reserved for the Big Boys, others were there for the ‘opening act’ or cameos. The juniors were not expected to speak at meetings, they were there to follow instructions.
Dhoni broke the mould. He got a lucky break. When the seniors skipped the 2007 T20 World Cup, he was made the captain. The ‘old Dhoni’ never missed an opportunity. Give him an inch, he would take a mile. He famously won the Cup.
India’s success in the newest format, the very popular hit-and-miss T20, would change the cricketing ecosystem. And the Railway ticket-collector from Ranchi would go on to be the unquestioned leader of a team that had the game’s greats. Dhoni, once and for all, proved that cricketing acumen wasn’t only bestowed on those born in the cricketing hubs like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru.
India’s Aussie coach Greg Chappell saw Dhoni’s potential as a captain. In his book ‘Fierce Focus’, he writes: “The real ray of hope for Indian cricket was Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the most impressive young cricketers I’d ever worked with. He was smart, and able to read the game as perceptively as the best leaders. During breaks, if I wanted to know what was going on in the middle, Dhoni became my go-to man,” he writes. That go-to man would get India its second 50-overs World Cup in 2011 at home, another first.
On his way out, Dhoni has been gracious. The farewell video has stars who he didn’t share a great rapport with. And by his song selection, he reminds fans that new stars will emerge and he, too, like everyone else, has a shelf-life. But still, it will be tough to calm a nation that will learn to live without the ‘Dhoni hai na’ reassurance.
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