On 19:29 Saturday evening, India’s most successful limited-overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced to the world that it should consider him ‘Retired’.
The news may have been unexpected for many across the globe but those who knew him for long knew it was coming.
Dhoni’s body wasn’t the same as it was in his prime but still there was the desire to run the last lap hard. He wanted to play T20 World Cup, supposed to be held in Australia later this year before being postponed due to the pandemic.
Defeat in the 2019 ICC World Cup semifinal hurt him personally and the injured finger in that contest ensured he sat out for the next few months.
In a party at his home last winter, Dhoni had told one of his friends that he won’t be playing beyond the 2020 T20 World Cup but will be available for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League. But the outbreak around the world denied him the chance of an international swansong.
“His body had started to give up and he knew it was not responding the way he wanted it to. Still, he wanted to play the T20 World Cup and then call it officially. With the World Cup not happening this year, he felt it was the right time to call it off and play only IPL,” a player said.
The national selection committee, meanwhile, had already moved on from Dhoni after the 2019 World Cup. Former chairman of the panel, MSK Prasad had made it clear in October that they were now focusing on Rishabh Pant.
He also said that the message had been conveyed to Dhoni.
“I made it very clear post the World Cup that we are moving on. We are giving opportunities to youngsters and see that they establish themselves in the side. With Rishabh Pant doing so well and even Sanju Samson coming into the side [as back-up wicketkeeper], I am sure you must be understanding our thought process,” Prasad had said.
Before making a final decision to call it a day, Dhoni wanted to consult his franchise. It is learnt that he spoke to former BCCI president N Srinivasan, the man behind CSK, after landing in Chennai on Friday. One of Dhoni’s close friends said he will continue his association with the franchise and will be part of the decision-making core in the future.
In a meeting with Indian Army personnel last year, Dhoni was asked to sing a song, and he hummed one by late Mukesh which he relates to. “It’s relevant if you look at my sport, the line which says ‘mein pal do pal ka shayar hoon’. Tomorrow, someone else will come who will play better than me. There will be people who will see better than you. Whether anyone remembers me in future or not, it doesn’t matter,” Dhoni said during the interaction.
Dhoni again used the same song on Saturday to describe his journey while making his retirement public.
In his last public appearance in Mumbai, Dhoni had told reporters curious about his future, “January tak mat poochna (Don’t ask till January)”.
In real life too, he stretched his game till the last.
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