It was Indian cricket’s million dollar question. But it wasn’t hinting at prosperity, it was one that had pathos as its overwhelming base. The query was - will M. S. Dhoni do a low-profile exit from international cricket, like the one he did with Tests?
Saturday evening, twilight to be precise, Dhoni did what he does best – spring surprises even if it means either rival bowlers are gob-smacked or cricket writers almost become like William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and wonder ‘did he’ or ‘didn’t he?’
Through an Instagram post, the former India captain announced his retirement from international cricket. The emphatic message was that the legend from Ranchi, will no longer turn out for India in limited overs cricket.
Having retired from Tests in 2014, a move that had all the shock-and-awe of his quicksilver stumpings and helicopter-sixes, Dhoni continued to be India’s hope-dispenser in ODIs and Twenty20s until Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma stepped into that rarefied zone.
And now with his usual ‘let-me-vanish-without-the-drumbeats’ quitting, an era has ended in Indian cricket. Though an international retirement was on the cards – Dhoni turned 39 last month – his exit will take a while to sink in. Such was his impact!
Over the last two decades, after Sachin Tendulkar, Dhoni became India’s much-loved cricketer. There was an air of mystique and a sense of nonchalance like the ones you saw in Clint Eastwood’s old Westerns. Above all, he lent hope and only legends have this intangible quality of throwing a lifeline while the fires raged.
An inflationary asking rate of 10 and above was laughed at as long as Dhoni was there. Nothing fazed him, be it the rival bowler or the soul-numbing pressure of expectations.
Every generation has its own eternal sunshine moment. For those with their adolescence in the 1980s, it was all about Kapil Dev holding aloft the 1983 World Cup at Lord’s. Much later, came another vignette burnt into our collective memories, the six off Nuwan Kulasekara at a raucous Wankhede Stadium on an April night in 2011 as Dhoni seized the World Cup while delirium spread from Mumbai to the rest of India.
Dhoni, the wicket-keeper was ever agile, the skipper was always aware of the game-situation, and as a batsman, he had this belief that he would always prevail. The last trait was one you previously associated with the great Vivian Richards.
With 10,773 ODI runs, a T20 international yield of 1617, a combined tally of 378 catches and 157 stumpings, leading India to titles in the 2007 ICC World T20, 2011 World Cup and 2013 ICC Champions Trophy, Dhoni’s phenomenal legacy is set in stone.
His last international joust, in which he scored a valiant 50 in a losing World Cup semifinal against New Zealand at Manchester last year, turned out to be his heart-wrenching full-stop.
But there is the Indian Premier League still for his fans to savour while he helms Chennai Super Kings, a squad with which he trained at Chennai’s M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Saturday night after leaving the sporting community in tumult with a social-media post. Truly, he is one of a kind.
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