In one way cricket legend MS Dhoni symbolizes the era he lives in perfectly. Once upon a time, Test match was the pinnacle of cricket. Every cricketer no matter how well he did in ODIs wanted to be remembered as a great Test player.
Not anymore. When the richest and the most successful captain in the world (if you combine Tests, ODIs, international T20s and IPL) decides to quit Test cricket on his own at the young age of 33, then you know Tests are no longer that important.
ODIs get much more money for the BCCI than Tests ever can hope to. International T20s are more attractive for the youth and may become the dominant format in the future. Finally the IPL has totally overshadowed the Ranji Trophy in India.
It has been India's best kept secret that both the fans and BCCI don't think too much for Tests and now with Dhoni's retirement, it has come out in the open. If the old nostalgic era that old commentators talk of regularly still existed, then Dhoni would have quit IPL first since he is under a cloud.
Alternatively, he would have quit ODIs after the 2015 World Cup to concentrate on Tests. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman who quit ODIs to concentrate on their Test careers may be called the last of the old guard.
There is also the question of seniority. In the past a player would be tried as an ODI leader first and then if he succeeded, he would be given the Test captaincy. Even a successful Test captain would give up his ODI captaincy to groom new talent.
Dhoni himself first captained international T20s, then ODIs and finally Tests in that order.
But now we have the situation where the most experienced captain in the world (joining all formats of the game and IPL) is the ODI/T20 captain while our most inexperienced captain (Virat Kohli) is heading Tests.
You could say that now officially the ODI is the senior format and the Test the junior format.
There is also the issue of fatigue. All our cricketers are overworked. The BCCI is organizing more and more international matches and on top of that still packing IPL into a busy schedule. Players with minor injuries are still made to play and the rest and rotation policy is mostly junked for fear of offending the sponsors.
Dhoni first became Test captain on April 11, 2008. Since then, in six odd years, Dhoni has played a whopping 244 international matches most of which he has captained, kept wickets and batted at No. 5 or below.
In this period alone, he scored 9,000+ international runs with 400+ dismissals.
Add 100+ IPL matches to the above mix and you probably have the most overworked player in the history of cricket. Dhoni was groaning at the edges and something had to give in. It should be no surprise that Tests were the first casualty.
Then there are last Tests. There is no such thing as a good ole Test farewell anymore. Rahul Dravid announced his retirement after the 2011-12 Australia Test series and VVS Laxman before the very next 2012 New Zealand home series even though he was part of the squad.
Nobody knows the "official" status of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh.
(Sachin Tendulkar is an exception to this rule, but then he has always led a privileged life so it should come as no surprise that he got the grandest farewell that anyone could think of.)
So when Dhoni defended Shane Watson in the last ball of the second last over of the Melbourne Test, nobody knew it was his last official act on the Test field. When he walked back to the pavilion, nobody knew it was to be his last walk back in a Test match.
In an era when money talks and T20 thrills, who should worry about great Test moments?
All those who keep shouting “Test cricket is not dead” after a great match should stop doing so.
Test matches are already ghosts compared to the vibrant following that matches of the shorter formats have.
By and large empty stadiums at most Test matches are testimony to that stark fact.
The T20 generation has well and truly arrived and nothing symbolizes that more than Dhoni.
(The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger. The views expressed are personal. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/)