He didn’t really need to. He could have let the Board of Control for Cricket in India put out a statement on his behalf. Wasn’t that what he did in 2014 when he gave up the captaincy and retired from Test cricket? Delivered a long press conference without giving even so much of a sniff. Only for the gathered journalists to receive a BCCI statement a little while later, announcing Dhoni’s retirement from the longest format of the game.
Perhaps then, the declaration that the 39-year-old was stepping away from the India blues wasn’t really as Dhoni-like as it first appeared on the surface.
The song that accompanies Dhoni’s video is Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon; a classic of Hindi cinema. Mukesh sings it beautifully and wistfully, the lyricism by the maestro Sahir Ludhianvi is self-effacing, yet hypnotically expressive.
Dhoni wants to express himself, but he has built a career of being inexpressive. He wants to speak but doesn’t want to say too much. The song, then, is a brilliant choice, mirroring his attitude to game
(and perhaps, even to life) to the ‘T’.
But the video is evocative. It is four minutes of the song playing in the background with images stitched together of Dhoni’s career. The editing is not top-notch, almost as if to suggest that Dhoni must have put it together. That would fit into the Dhoni playbook perfectly – if he had to
speak of himself, he never tried to be too serious about it.
But he does want to talk about himself. At first glance, the images may seem random, but they’re not, they have a narrative and they tell a story.
One final time, Dhoni wants us to put it together. Maybe, try and understand him.
For a while, the video lingers on a photo of him out for a duck, leg-before-wicket to Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan. It closes with his run-out in the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. By this time, the song is over and Amitabh Bachchan’s lyrical shayari has taken over.
The Mahi way of treating triumph and disaster
The thing which was both incredible, and at times infuriating, about Dhoni was how unconventional he was. There were geniuses before him and there will be geniuses after him but Dhoni, at times, didn’t seem to care.
His lack of emotion was so out of place that it brought him haters too. How could a man be playing cricket for India and not seem to care? How could he be so robot-like? At times, it seemed Dhoni could be playing cricket for India or on the streets of Ranchi – there was no difference in how he treated both the situations.
No other cricketer exemplified Rudyard Kipling’s line about treating triumph and disaster as the same. Dhoni didn’t get affected. There were a few strange instances, but on a whole, he played the game in a strangely unaffected manner that was alien to sport fans.
As the years went by, we thought it was a façade which he cultivated extremely well. But, was it really a façade? Was it possible for a human being to maintain a façade for so long?
And that really was the denouement. It wasn’t a façade. That was Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
He actually was that kind of cricketer. He really could and manage to do it. He just had that unparalleled ability to not be affected – to come into a World Cup match and knock it around, to come into a semi-final and block. Dhoni wasn’t maintaining a façade – he’s just wired completely differently.
And that’s why it’s difficult to think of anyone else quite like him. Calm detachment is a trope that is so easy to write about, but so difficult to execute, especially when you captain a cricket team that is followed by a billion-plus fans.
Other cricketers have been calm and collected – none more so than Dhoni. Because for others, the ability to be unaffected has been a quality they have needed to work upon – for Dhoni, it was something he seemed to naturally possess.
Thank you, MSD
An argument perhaps could be made that in the post 2011 era, Dhoni could often be taken for granted. Furious arguments would break out as soon as he arrived at the crease. If he failed to finish a game, many delighted in writing him off. When he took his helicopter shot out, the other half would swoon in raptures of ecstasy.
There is every chance now that as he finally steps aside, Indian cricket will realize how good they had it with Dhoni in the team, even if he was a declining force. The value of his quiet word to Virat Kohli during a particularly tight situation, his breath-taking wicketkeeping to effect a key dismissal, his calmness as a batter and the quality of letting the opposition know that they would not win unless they got through him – well, good luck replacing these qualities.
Thank you, Mahi. Underneath all those labels we loved affixing to you – Captain Cool, Thala, etc — you may have wanted to talk, wanted to respond, wanted to show your emotions but kept them all in check, only because the team needed it.
Or perhaps, you’re just laughing out there at all the realms of psychoanalysis that will follow now.
Go on and go well, MS, you deserve it.