“They (phoenixes) can carry immensely heavy loads,” said Albus Dumbledore in the film version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Now that already sounds like our good ole MS Dhoni who just stepped down as ODI and international T20 captain.
Dhoni took over captaincy of all formats of the game in 2008. He held on to them for a good six odd years till 2014. During that period, he excelled simultaneously at the following roles…
1. Captain (remaining as cool as a cucumber under immense pressure).
2. Wicket-keeper (ever alert, effecting dismissals unthinkable for an average keeper).
3. Batsman (always saving the team at the last moment and many a time ending the match with a clean six).
Of the Test team, ODI team, international T20 team and even the Chennai Super Kings! Count all the matches and they are in the region of 400.
Can you think of anyone in the history of cricket who has handled such a workload, remained calm and delivered the goods better than countries with a 3-way split captaincy in international cricket?
But he is not only a phoenix for the workload. His whole career has been riddled with contradictions. For one his birth in international cricket itself was a miracle. That story was chronicled in the film MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016).
Once in international cricket, he wowed Indian audiences with his power hitting, helicopter sixes and last ball finishes. He was the backbone in India’s then record of 17 consecutive successful ODI chases.
That was a rebirth for Team India’s career for till then we were poor chasers but his stamp remains today, where we are great at putting first innings totals but even greater at chasing them! However it all fell apart by 2007.
The opposition bowlers had figured him out and he started getting out cheaply. His low point was 2007. In the ODI World Cup, he scored a duck against Bangladesh that set us back considerably. In the must win match against Sri Lanka also he scored a duck and we were booted out.
Dhoni became a villain of India and his house was stoned in one of the most shameful incidents of Indian cricket his house was stoned and fans raged and ranted against him.
He was totally down, but then he rose gloriously from the ashes. There were two rebirths. One was of India captaincy. Sourav Ganguly was a great captain. But he would falter at the very last moment in tournaments.
We were perennial runners-up and even in the Test and ODI rankings, we somehow couldn’t go beyond No. 3. Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble failed to rectify that. The Dhoni Era changed all that spectacularly.
He brought in his brand of no-fear cricket into Team India (coined by Aussie legend Ian Chappell who is usually stingy with his praises for the opposition) and we went on to get all three ICC trophies and all three No. 1 rankings. But more than that, he re-invented his batting. Gone was the attacking batsman from the word go.
Now Dhoni would come and plod around and check the pitch and the bowlers. He would slowly build up the tempo and make sure he stayed till the last over and one simply has lost track of the amount of winning shots he has hit.
When we drew a blank from the ODI World Cups from 1987 to 2007, the average fan had given up, but he gave us back the cup in 2011. Then after the 0-8 overseas Test debacle, he captained India to the ICC Champions Trophy and 4-0 whitewash of Australia.
In the former he continued with his innovative captaincy and in the latter he scored at that time the highest individual batting knock by an Indian Test captain and that double century probably is his best knock in the longer formats.
Then he underwent a really bad patch from 2014-end to 2015-end. When it seemed finished for him, he gave one last shot in 2016. We became the first team in history to whitewash Australia 3-0 in Australia and we won the first T20 Asia Cup.
But Dhoni looked tired and jaded and maybe the years were finally catching up from him. However, he has made is a huge gamble. With captaincy out of the way, he no longer is a sure thing in the ODI team.
Sure he has 9000+ runs at an average of about 51. But his strike rate has started slowing down; he has failed to finish it in the last over on many occasions in the last few years and even getting out at crucial moments.
Dhoni in the last couple of years at many times has looked a pale imitation of himself.
In IPL 2016, beginner’s luck finally eluded him when he could do absolutely nothing for the fortunes of the Rising Pune Supergiants. He looked jaded and RPS exited early. The last match was a mere formality and nobody cared who won or lost.
But Dhoni finally walked out to bat without pressure on his face for the first time in ages. He belted a cool 64 off 32 balls including 22 runs off the last 5 balls. How one hopes that this is the avatar Indian cricket sees for the next 2-3 years!
Can Dhoni the batsman help us win the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy? Or the 2018 T20 World Cup? Or the 2019 ODI World Cup?
The phoenix may yet rise from the ashes one last time!