The pride and passion of Mahendra Singh Dhoni is touching. Once the Midas of cricket whose touch turned everything to gold, he had to trim his workload to stretch his career. He gave up Test cricket, perhaps because five day contests seemed to bore him to death, unable as they were to keep his intensity fired up. More wisely, he gave up the ODI-T20 captaincy at a time of diminishing returns which sort of catches up with all the best guys, except say Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Dhoni was the type who seemed to roll on intensity, revelling in being in the thick of things. Sporting fatigue tends to take its toll though, something he realised early on that Australian tour of 2014-15 when he suddenly threw one format out of the window. That may not have helped enough as his side went down in the semi-final when they were the defending champions in the World Cup. It was a matter of time before he would realise that he was standing in the way of team India building itself into a force for the future if he stuck on as ODI captain.
Regardless of whether the young guns were misfiring or not, Dhoni had to hand the reins to Virat Kohli before his Team India went into terminal decline. He did shed the captaincy on his own terms although time was getting nigh to when he would have been given the final push if he didn’t heed the signs. Remarkably, after having handing over the baton, Dhoni still has the pride and passion to be the driving force of the fielding team when he is there behind the stumps and seeing everything from a vantage viewpoint.
Wicket-keepers can be loud motivational machines with routine words of encouragements to the bowlers and fielders. Dhoni is a bit different as he has also been the general who commanded his troops from there. It’s not a habit that he can shed easily as he is heard barking instructions to bowlers, even yelling at deep fielders to be alert. While much of that may come from habit, there were certain things he said or indicated to bowlers that were first rate insights into the batsmen. Some of his utterances came through the mike. Beyond the knowledge behind the words, it was the passion of his voice that stood out the old warhorse responding to the smell of battle again and again.
Dhoni was never the one to leave the result to the cricketing gods. He was often in the middle at the climax, as in the 2011 World Cup final, following his lofted drove all the way to the stands and into the stratosphere of cricketing fame and achievement, in a climactic moment that still has the hair standing on end. This was the old Dhoni, fire and brimstone to the very end. Maybe, that finishing power is not there anymore. He is no Nadal who can conquer even the hard court at Flushing Meadows at the age of 31 to take the US Open title from the young guns. His winning the French is a given, but a US title now brings out the tenacity of the man and his tennis. Dhoni reminds you so much of Nadal when he makes that effort behind the stumps, demonstrating there is no age bar on trying. Dhoni is senior by five years but then tennis singles is a far more exhausting pastime.
Maybe, Federer is nearer Dhoni’s age but then the champion is a natural with the dulcet touch that places him in the bracket of sporting geniuses. Dhoni may be a self-taught desi great, but one without the touch of finesse. As a personality, Dhoni may have come very far from a gawky ticket collector on a railway platform, but in his batting there is still that rustic touch that makes him uniquely Indian, the helicopter shot, a ‘Made in India’ initiative and perfectly descriptive of the man, his background and his mission.
The frustration at being reduced somewhat by age and reflexes as in his playing on when he was desperately trying to take India to the finish line in the fourth ODI the only one India lost might tell at times. But there is no mistaking the intent of the man. He will make himself as useful as possible at every turn. But don’t blame him if he can’t carry the team across the line. That is the job of the younger generation, but one fortunate enough to have Dhoni’s passion and commitment to the cause.