What an amazing career MS Dhoni has had. He burst into the scene as an explosive ODI batsman, clobbering attacks into submission. When the opposition figured him out and started getting out cheaply on a regular basis, he re-invented his game to have a brilliant second innings.
Dhoni has now scored more than 7000 ODI runs at an astonishing average of close to 52 and is already probably the greatest finisher of all time. He is 31 and by the end of his career could well be one of the greats of all time.
As a captain, he was even more stunning and soon notched up almost every achievement in the book. Even his batting average was a 50+ as Test captain at one stage.
Then his captaincy reached the absolute depths. Our greatest captain suddenly became our worst. From 2011-12, while Dhoni had a 5-0 win-loss ratio against weak teams, he had an absolutely abysmal 1-10 against the strong ones.
There was no doubt about it. He should have been removed as Test captain.
But for whatever reason, he wasn’t.
(The Chennai Super Kings link with BCCI head honcho N Srinivasan is the most common conspiracy theory)
Either way, Dhoni has begun his second innings in style.
You could say that the revival began in the last Test against England last year when the Dhoni-Virat Kohli mammoth partnership secured a draw.
And here we are with another umpteenth “first” that Dhoni used to do regularly from 2007-11. After breaking free of Sourav Ganguly with a record 23 Test wins, Dhoni also became the first captain to win 3 Tests in a series since Mohammed Azharuddin in 1994.
If he hit a winning 6 in the ODI World Cup final, then he hit three straight 4s at Mohali to get India 3-0 up. To think, this was a Test match!
Now he is on the cusp of another record. Our first ever 4-0 whitewash in a Test series and that too against a top team like Australia!
This can be called his second innings in Tests for one more reason. For the first time ever he could be leading a brand new team, one in which almost all the players have made their Test debuts after him.
Once the great Sachin Tendulkar retires, Dhoni will take his place as the veteran of the Test team.
Dhoni made his Test debut in 2005.
This is when the rest of the team made their Test debuts…
Ishant Sharma (2007), Murli Vijay (2008), Pragyan Ojha (2009), Cheteshwar Pujara (2010), Virat Kohli (2011), Ravichandran Ashwin (2011), Ravindra Jadeja (2012), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2013) and Shikhar Dhawan (2013).
Dhoni is now in a team bereft of seniors and totally free from all the politics. There were earlier reports of some seniors not being comfortable with Dhoni and others themselves wanting to be captains. All that will not happen now. Dhoni is the undisputed leader.
While most people have been unimpressed by coach Duncan Fletcher, Dhoni seems to like him and gets along with him. Duncan’s contract has been extended by a year and that will please Dhoni and help him with his plans.
The change in Dhoni has been extremely apparent. When the Captain Cool mode, which served him so well from 2007-11, no longer started showing results, Dhoni became Captain Animated. At times he has celebrated the falls of a Test wicket as if he had won the World Cup.
He has become more authoritative on the Test field and doesn’t hold back from showing his anger or disapproval. Of course, it makes it much easier for him that most of the seniors are out of the team and he is now the senior.
All in all we can be very hopeful when we visit South Africa.
Now most people will still say that we will get clobbered when we go there thanks to the fast pitches and the fact that South Africa currently has the greatest fast bowling line-up in the world.
But one never knows.
Till recently India boasted of its greatest Test batting line-up ever: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. Add to the fact that Dhoni is the greatest Test wicketkeeper batsman.
Zaheer Khan had emerged as the top bowler of the 2011 ODI World Cup while Ishant Sharma became the man of the series in the Test series in West Indies.
So then how did such a strong team, which had been performing greatly on foreign pitches close to 10 years now go down 0-8?
On the other hand a brand new team of newcomers has just given us a 3-0.
Dhoni as captain leads 3-2 against South Africa including the 1-1 in our overseas tour last time which happened to be the only Test series we didn’t lose there.
So while we are definitely the underdogs, one never knows!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/