“God is not coming to save us” – MSD
This is what MS Dhoni said to his team before they took to the field in 2013 to defend their below-par score in the Champions Trophy final.
This line truly embodied the Dhoni era. He made his own luck, created chances, set fields even the commentators didn’t understand, took off his keeping pads to bowl himself (on nine occasions), bowled Ishant Sharma at the death of the CT2013 final and promoted himself above man of the tournament Yuvraj Singh to win the 2011 world cup final.
However he was not only a mastermind in his captaincy. MS Dhoni reinvented the art of wicket-keeping, from his under leg flick-ons to his lightning quick stumpings. There has been no captain/wicket-keeper like him and there will be none like him. Not necessarily in skill but in sheer determination to be the best. When he started out he was no better than any other keeper that had come India’s way. He struggled behind the stumps against Anil Kumble but grew and went on to become the most successful keeper in terms of stumpings (surpassing Kumar Sangakkara).
These stats do not do Dhoni’s keeping skills justice. During the T20 cup last year, he manufactured a stumping against Sabbir Rahman who lost balance for what was later estimated to be 0.35 seconds (about as long as it takes to blink).
As far as ‘step-downs’ go, this was by far one of the most graceful. A man who led India through 199 ODIs, scoring 6633 runs at an average of 53.92, 72 T20s and 60 Tests. He guided India through their transition from Tendulkar to Kohli and has built a young and formidable side. He has given Virat Kohli the chance to lead India into a big tournament this year and has given the young prodigy time to prepare for the 2019 World Cup in England.
Very few other captains have stepped down and stuck around to play under another. Dhoni (aged 35) still has a lot of cricket left in him but has given his successor the best opportunity to succeed by sticking around and potentially the best opportunity for himself to play without the weight of a billion fans hopes on his shoulders.
Shaun Pollock, Sourav Ganguly, Ross Taylor, Younis Khan. All team men who continued to play under their successors, and to great avail. Younis Khan became Pakistan’s highest run getter – and it appears MS Dhoni is on that same track.
India’s 2-1 series win against England in the ODIs was no surprise. Virat Kohli led from the front in the first ODI scoring 122 and setting the tone for his captaincy and England won an incredibly tense final over in the third but it was Dhoni’s 134 that was the highlight of the series and will be a key talking point in the lead up to CT17. Having scored the highest number of ODI hundreds by a number 7 he was finally promoted to play up the order (where he should have been from day one). He and Yuvraj Singh, who scored 150, put on a mamoth 250 run partnership and it almost felt like it was 2011 again.
Dhoni’s skills as a batsman have been and will be vital for India, his calm presence, his ability to pace an innings and his incredible self confidence have helped them recover from 29/5 against Pakistan in 2012, beat Australia in the 2012 Commonwealth Bank Series and win the ICC 2011 World Cup.
As Kohli had put it before the series started, it’s a ‘win-win’ for India as Dhoni will be around to give advice and offer input but will also have the freedom to play without the burden of captaincy. This was Dhoni’s first ODI century since 2013 against Australia in Mohali and I expect it won’t be his last.
(special thanks to Jaymin Thakrar on this one for his expertise on all things Dhoni related)