“And Dhoni Finishes it off in style, a magnificent strike for six. India win the World Cup after 28 years, and its been an Indian captain who has been magnificent on the night of the final.”
Ravi Shastri’s bombastic words on commentary still rings in all our ears, the sight of Dhoni sinking that half volley into the Wankhede crowd is embedded in our memory. The helicopter is purring, the defense is ugly but effective and the running between the wickets is lighting quick.
The year is 2011 and Mahendra Singh Dhoni is at the peak of his powers, promoting himself above the man of the tournament in India’s most monumental chase in history and winning India the World Cup. He can do no wrong.
8 years later, he is about to head to his 4th ODI World Cup, and opinion on him is more divided than ever. He is no longer the MS of old, the helicopter seems to have run out of gas, the strike rate is vintage and there are few more greys in the beard. There are calls for him to be dropped and to give the dynamic Rishabh Pant more chances. People have seemed to have made their mind up on Dhoni, and whatever he does now can’t change their opinions, merely validate them.
We as Indian fans seem to be stuck in the past when it comes to MSD, we expect him to come out and go hard from ball one and completely dominate a team. But players evolve, and Dhoni no longer explodes past the finish line, he merely trots over it. As he did in the last 2 ODI’s in Australia. His three half centuries helped India win their first bilateral ODI series in Australia and helped him pick up the man of the series award in the process. For the meantime; that will keep the circling vultures away, but to many, there are still questions needing answers.
In a 240 run match, he is a priceless commodity; but in the age of 300+ totals the assumption is he is more of a hindrance than help. Does he put too much pressure on the other batsman, is he consuming too many dot balls? In the era of T10, instant gratification, ever-updating technology and not wasting a single delivery, Dhoni does something that almost seems like the cardinal sin; he takes his own time.
To many that seems like a flaw, but it could be his greatest asset. Acting as the perfect foil for those around him. While the likes of Kohli, Jadhav or Karthik can move the game forward. MSD can be the one to drop the anchor and guide the team to victory. He has the smartest cricket brain in the country and with laser like precision he will know when to move through the gears and which bowlers to target. But to do that, he needs to take his time in the beginning. And in a 300 ball innings, surely we can afford him that luxury.
Moreover, what he brings to this team is way more than his runs in the middle order. He is still India’s best wicketkeeper at the age of 37 and is basically the pseudo fielding captain. On the ground, he is akin to a choirmaster, guiding the spinners and orchestrating the field. These are aspects to his game that statistics can’t show. His experience in a World Cup will be invaluable and it is a foregone conclusion that he should be on that flight to England in May.
They say that the modern game has eclipsed him, and he can no longer do the things he could a decade ago. But, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a once in a generation cricketer, who has witnessed and choreographed the transformation of Indian Cricket. A true champion, oblivious to the world around him and he is still taking his time and readily waiting for his curtain call.