Shortly after the third Test at Melbourne in 2014 was drawn, Mahendra Singh Dhoni made his decision to retire from Test cricket known in the dressing room. The silence could’ve been cut with a knife. Not a single player so much as shuffled their feet for a while. My jaw hit the floor.
It was surreal. Midway through the series, one of India’s greatest players and most successful captains just walks in and announces that he’s had enough, and is quitting the scene – and there isn’t even a flicker of tension on his face! What should one do?
MS was India’s, in fact the world’s, biggest player then with three ICC trophies under his belt, including two World Cups, and some very impressive silverware from the IPL. His form was good, and he was just ten matches shy of completing 100 Tests. Still one of the top-three fittest players on the team, he would have the opportunity to boost his career stats if nothing else. True, he wasn’t getting any younger, but he wasn’t that old either! His decision just didn’t make sense.
All cricketers say landmarks and milestones don’t matter, but some do. I approached the issue in a roundabout way, probing for an opening to make him change his mind. But there was a firmness to MS’s tone that stopped me from pushing the matter any further. Looking back, I think his decision was correct; also brave and selfless.
I had wondered then if he might have regrets after some time had passed, but MS has been a revelation. He was still captain in the ODIs and T20s, still a huge influence in Indian cricket, but never once let this impinge on what the players did, or how they settled in with new Test captain Virat Kohli. Giving up on the most powerful position in cricket in the world, in a way, couldn’t have been easy.
There are always doubts about how a senior player, and a hugely successful former captain at that, will fit in with youngsters and a new captain. But MS’s conduct in the years that followed was exemplary, even more so after he quit the ODI and T20 captaincies as well. He gelled superbly – as a fellow player, advisor, mentor, bulwark – as the situation demanded. This earned him even more respect from seniors and juniors alike, and showed his mature understanding of player and dressing-room dynamics.
MS’s impact on Indian cricket has been enormous. As a player, he is in the same league as Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev where multi-format excellence is concerned. (Virat Kohli, if he sustains form for the next few years, will be included in this club, but I can’t think of a fourth right now.)
Published with permission from Star Gazing: The Players in My Life by Ravi Shastri and Ayaz Memon – HarperCollins Publishers India.
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