Captaincy shock

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Mahi quits amid deafening silence, writes AJAY NAIDU

No sea of emotions among devoted fans in the stands. No guard of honour from his grateful colleagues. No lap of honour from the man himself!

In a style so typical of the man, Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked into the sunset, quitting Test cricket and leaving the cricketing world stunned and shell shocked.

For someone who follows his own wisdom, and wears his humility on his sleeves, Dhoni has been a man who isn’t given to display his emotions openly.

Perhaps the only hint he gave during the day was at the end of the Test when Dhoni plucked a stump and put it under his arm on his way back.

“Why would he collect a stump in a drawn game?” asked Ian Chappell on Channel Nine. “Why not, replied Dean Jones. He has nine victims from the Test…some sort of a record.”

Well, now we know why Dhoni took the stump as a souvenir!

And who knows? Perhaps, Dhoni might still come back for a gala farewell at the same MCG on 29 March, 2015 – the day of the World Cup final!

Soon after the post-match presentation, Dhoni came up for the customary press conference smiling. Some of his answers had his usual wit. Once he was through with it, he joked with this writer and some other journalist friends.

However, till then, no one had imagined that soon they would be hearing breaking news from India about his retirement.

The news spread like wild fire and, having spoken to a chosen few, it became apparent that Dhoni’s decision had taken everyone by surprise.

“Had we known that he was retiring, we would have given him a guard of honour or a farewell befitting a player of his stature,” said a senior colleague.

Ishant Sharma, who would have been history long back but for Dhoni’s relentless backing, tweeted:

“A bit shocked at Dhoni’s test retirement, Was sure he would leave it until the toss in Sydney to announce he wouldn’t be playing.”

One of Dhoni’s closest friends, Suresh Raina, tweeted: “Valiant while you led. Valiant in your departure.”

It is understood that Dhoni had made up his mind to retire from Tests on this tour. But almost everyone thought it would be after the Sydney Test.

It has been learned from reliable sources that Dhoni spoke to the BCCI Secretary, Sanjay Patel, informing him of his decision to quit with immediate effect. Again it was Dhoni’s wish that the decision be made public from India at the end of the third Test.

The BCCI press release gives the reason of Dhoni’s retirement as “strains of playing all forms of cricket”.

Those who have been privileged to know Dhoni closely knew that his current pace in cricket was taking a heavy toll on his body. In fact, soon after the 2011 World Cup win, Dhoni told a television channel that he would give up one form of cricket in a year’s time.

A couple of years back, during the 2012 India-West Indies series, the Indian team had just reached Mumbai from Kolkata for the final Test. At the team hotel Taj, Dhoni was resting his tired knees. “It is very taxing for a wicketkeeper,” he told this writer.

In another conversation during the same Test, his wife Sakshi told me, “I don’t want my husband to collapse on a cricket field.” Indeed on that day, I had first-hand knowledge of how taxing Dhoni’s workload was.

Then again, one thing that Dhoni would never forget to tell me during our discussions was that he won’t hang around for long. “The day I decide to retire, I will still be one of the fittest guys in the team,” said Dhoni. And he has kept his word.

To be sure, Dhoni’s body has been complaining for a couple of years now. A lesser mortal would have given up long ago.

There’s another theory which says that, with the team continuing to perform badly overseas, pressure was mounting on Dhoni to quit the job, with former players and critics questioning his defensive leadership in the longer format.

The only answer to that is that Dhoni is his own man. He was seldom bothered about the media or his critics. Had he wanted, he could have given up the captaincy and stayed on to play another 10 Tests to complete a tally of 100 Tests. But he is not one to be seduced by the lure of statistics or landmarks.

The criticism notwithstanding, Dhoni is now the leading run-scorer as captain with a tally of 3454 runs, going past Sunil Gavaskar (3449), Mohammad Azharuddin (2856) and Sourav Ganguly (2561).

It must be made clear that apart from Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli is also Dhoni’s closest buddy in the team. In fact, Dhoni chose to ignore Mohinder Amarnath’s dictate to drop Kohli and play Rohit Sharma in the 2012 Adelaide Test. As it were, Kohli went on to notch up his first Test hundred in that game. So, all talks of friction among the top players is sheer nonsense.

In fact, one of Dhoni’s major contributions to the Indian team is that, as captain, he ensured there was no ‘groupism’ in his team. There was no senior-junior business either. His relationship with his team was based on trust and mutual respect.

As Sunil Gavaskar righty pointed out, “Dhoni still had three years of cricket left in him.” But the one thing he always had in his mind was he would quit long before people asked ‘why’ rather than ‘why not’.

For the simple reason that Dhoni gave a hundred per cent, played his cricket with grace and humility, we should take his sudden decision to retire at face value.

Well done Mahi! It has indeed been a privilege knowing you; as a good cricketer, as a good friend…and most of all as a great human being!

 

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Ajay is a freelance cricket writer based in India who travels with the Indian cricket team
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