MS Dhoni: Master of the unexpected!

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has also resigned as the captain of the Indian limited-overs sides. Let us now sit back and enjoy his cricket and hope that when he finally decides to hang up his gloves he will do so with the same bang as he did when he announced himself on the international scene.

With Dhoni stepping down, Virat Kohli can use the limited-over series against England to gain valuable captaincy experience before the Champions Trophy in June.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

With Mahendra Singh Dhoni you can expect the unexpected. Yes, he is known as “captain cool,” for the way he soaks up the most intense of pressures and for being in total control of his emotions. But he has also done so many unexpected things on and off the field.

He retired from Test cricket after the third Test of a four-match series against Australia down under. He had missed the first Test due to an injury and so Virat Kohli captained India for the first time and joined Greg Chappell in scoring a century in each innings in his first Test as the skipper of his team. India lost that Test narrowly and everybody was talking about how Kohli had kept pursuing victory even after he was out and there was no batting left to win the game.

Dhoni came back for the next game in Brisbane which India again lost and the only chance left was to level the series. When the next Test in Melbourne ended in a draw, Dhoni did the unexpected by announcing he was quitting Test cricket altogether. He didn’t just step down from the captaincy, he also retired from the longer format of the game. That came as a shock because he had addressed a media conference at the end of the Test but had not said a word about quitting.

Quitting is the only way to describe it, for with the team losing and the pressure getting too much he wanted no responsibility. And to leave a Test series with one match still left was not something that was expected of him. He stayed on with the team as stand-by since the reserve wicketkeeper was unwell. Just imagine, the skipper of the team just a few days earlier, but a stand-by after that. Fortunately, Wriddhiman Saha, who had kept wickets in the first Test when Dhoni was injured, recovered in time to play the final Test of the series and saved the embarrassment of the recently resigned Indian skipper playing.

Since then Dhoni’s fortunes as captain have mainly ebbed, while Kohli’s have flowed and that’s why there were more and more calls for Kohli to be made captain in all formats of the game. Naturally, the pressure on Dhoni increased.

The thought that the selectors might be toying with the idea of having Kohli as captain even for the limited-overs formats, may have been one of the reasons for Dhoni to resign as captain from the shorter versions, too.

The England limited-overs team is much stronger than its Test squad and India won’t find it easy unless the pitches are square turners. If the pitches are anything like they were for the South Africa one-day series last year then India will be in for a tough time. These three one-day games are also the last ones before the Champions Trophy tournament in June later this year, so Dhoni would have wanted Kohli to get some experience too.

The problem is as you get older it’s not easy to play catch up with the game that has progressed. So, even while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. Many a champion like even Borg or McEnroe has struggled in a comeback after taking a break as the body takes a little time to adjust to the new pace of the game.

For Dhoni too it is not going to be easy as he is in his mid-thirties and has hardly played any competitive cricket after the one-day series against New Zealand in October. Since he has retired from Test cricket he doesn’t play Ranji cricket as he doesn’t want to block the place of a budding cricketer. But, while that is typical noble thinking, it doesn’t help him personally when he puts on the India limited-overs cap again. He is still supremely fit and so it won’t be a surprise if he overcomes the after-effects of this long gap. But, ideally, he should be playing some cricket to keep himself trim, if he intends to stay there till the ICC World Cup in England in 2019.

Meanwhile, let us all sit back and enjoy his cricket and hope that when he finally decides to hang up his gloves he will do so with the same bang as he did when he announced himself on the international scene.