M. S. Dhoni: Compelling as a batsman, authoritative as a captain, accommodating as a partner

Men like Dhoni come once in a century. The memories of his cricket – a very different cricket – will stay with us forever.

MS Dhoni in action for India   -  Getty Images

That he chose to announce his retirement on his Instagram handle only confirms that Mahendra Singh Dhoni always does things differently. His retirement shouldn't surprise anyone.

He played his cricket differently. He was compelling as a batsman, authoritative as a captain, accommodating as a partner.

Who ran the best ones and twos for others? Dhoni. Who stood out in a galaxy of stars? Dhoni. Was there an entertainer like him? Maybe a few.

But Dhoni was so different. He was a master at finishing the game, leaving you nervous and biting your nails. But he knew what he was delivering: a victory that would send the fans into a delirium, like that famous night at the Wankhede Stadium when he brought home the World Cup with a towering six.

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Indian cricket has seen may icons, from Vijay Merchant to Sunil Gavaskar, G. R. Viswanath to Sachin Tendulkar. But Dhoni was different. He was a trendsetter, a role model of a kind never seen before. He inspired kids in small towns and villages to dream big. Cricket travelled to remote centres with Dhoni’s success in the world of cricket.

Dhoni entered the dressing room a shy man. He remained an introvert. But he spoke with his bat, his leadership and his belief in himself. His ability to stay calm on and off the field propelled the side to greater heights.

He was fearless. He would not stop at initiating a debate with a Virender Sehwag or a Sourav Ganguly. He could do that. If Dhoni backed cricketers from small towns, the seeds lay in his own rise. All his initial years, he struggled to attract attention. The media ignored him. So did many senior players on the domestic circuit. That stayed in his mind.

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But he arrived with a bang, and that 148 not out against Pakistan at Visakhapatnam in April 2005 defined his cricket, his career.

Dhoni innovated in the middle. His range of shots – some pristine in execution, some created with a robust heave – was his trademark that none could emulate. He sometimes loved to mock the opposition, with his stance-position stroke play, smiling as he followed the course of the ball. You do that in club cricket, not on the international stage.

He brought a great sense of assurance to the team with his presence. “I love attention,” Dhoni once told this reporter. He did. In style, too. There was nothing pretentious about his cricket. The swagger was natural, the aggression at the crease an innate quality. He played cricket to celebrate his athleticism. His supreme fitness is testimony to his awesome physical strength.

READ| MS Dhoni announces retirement from international cricket

When was he going to retire? The world was in such a hurry to see Dhoni’s exit from the international stage. Not that there was a replacement waiting. There can’t be a player good enough to achieve half of what Dhoni did. But every season began with speculation concerning his availability. Now that he has decided to walk away from the game he loved so much, cricket will be all the more poorer.

Men like Dhoni come once in a century. He has only retired from the game. The memories of his cricket – a very different cricket – will stay with us forever.

Thanks, Maahi, for your brand of cricket. So very different. So very joyful. Cricket will not be the same anymore.

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