Dhoni: the legacy of a cricket champion
(This essay is commentary. Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.)
In 2004, Indian cricket discovered a new drug – MSD. And ever since, well almost, it’s been on a high, highs it had never experienced before. Perhaps Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s greatest legacy will be his spirit of a champion, a spirit that believed in carving out victory when defeat seemed imminent. It’s the same spirit that galvanized the Indian team into world champions in all three formats of the game between 2007 and 2011 under his captaincy.
And quite true to his spirit, when victory began to elude him in test cricket after a spate of highs, he knew his time was up. And he wisely chose to quit test cricket with the detachment of a monk, without any press conference or usual fanfare.
Dhoni marked a new era when cricket, in a way, got more democratized in India. It wasn’t a preserve of Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore anymore to produce players for the Indian team. They now started mushrooming from everywhere. Ravindra Jadeja came from Navagam-Khed, Saurashtra, Suresh Raina from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. And the harvest was rich.
What Sachin Tendulkar brought to Indian cricket, Dhoni transformed into a national culture, a brand of counter-attacking cricket that pulverized the greatest of opposition. The Indian dressing room patented its own version of aggressive cricket, be it batting, bowling or fielding; even spinners exuded aggression of a fast bowler. And in all of this, Dhoni led from the front even when the likes of Sachin, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sehwag, Saurav Ganguly and Anil Kumble were around. Dhoni’s cricketing skill, shrewdness and charm weaved these stalwarts into an unbeatable side. On Dec 6, 2009, India became world’s top test team after beating Sri Lanka at Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai. And the team stayed at the top for 18 months, a feat India never achieved in its 77 years of test history.
Dhoni’s wicket keeping skills may have, at best, been mediocre (no international-level keeper stopped the ball with his pads like Dhoni did, as it’s considered not just demeaning but a sacrilege), but he diligently camouflaged it with his catching and stumping abilities. He rarely snatched a catch in front of the first slip, but he somehow hung on to catches that came his way. His figure of 256 catches and 38 stumpings in test cricket defines the cricketer Dhoni was.
As a batsman and a skipper, he was uniquely gifted. He wielded the willow with a ferocity and brilliance of a typical Indian summer. Endowed with agility and power, he was ruthless against the most incisive bowling attack, including Australia, South Africa and England. His innings of 224 against Australia’s Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon in Chennai, and unbeaten 132 against South Africa’s Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell and Jacques Kallis in Kolkata showed how he took opposition to the cleaners.
What Dhoni the captain achieved is much beyond mere statistics. He instilled the belief in his teammates that they could beat any side. And they did. Even Sachin has acknowledged that dressing room atmosphere had been the best during Dhoni’s tenure as a captain, where players not only worked hard for team’s victory, but also reveled in each other’s success.
His only blemish, perhaps, is his overseas record as a captain – only six Test victories and 15 defeats out of 30 Tests. India’s fortune has been disappointing since April 2011 as the team lost 13 out of 18 tests abroad and won only one. Still, he led India to 21 Test wins at home, making him the most successful Indian captain of all time.
What will transcend everything is the memory of his astounding six, with his signature helicopter shot, which gave India her second ODI World Cup.
When Dhoni finally hangs up his boots for good in all forms of cricket, he’ll be best remembered as a handsome and charismatic leader who inspired India to scale cricket’s greatest heights.