Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an enigma in Indian cricket. The next generation of sport fans will be regaled with tales of the days when he would set up his office desk behind the stumps waving calmly and issuing orders to fielders.
As the wickets fall, he makes the all too familiar jog down the pitch to congratulate bowler and fielder alike before disappearing once again. In American sporting parlance, Dhoni would be referred to as the “paper boy” – because he always delivers.
When he comes out to bat it is usually at a tense situation in the match. A certain number of runs required to win or if the game calls for sending the run-rate through the roof, his unorthodox style has time and time again done the job.
On Wednesday December 4,2016 at the end of a Ranji Trophy semi-final game between Dhoni’s Jharkhand and Gujarat he announced that he would not lead the side anymore. No fanfare, no press conferences, no social media. In the style that we have become accustomed to, the board sent out a simple message that he would be stepping down as India captain, but would be available to play.
At the scene was Shashank Kishore, senior-sub editor Cricinfo in whose opinion – the decision was taken at a time as good as ever. He also pointed out that Dhoni had a lot to offer as a player – giving up the captaincy could potentially free him up and we could see the best of him in the next two years.
While the cricketing world came to grips with this announcement, Dhoni was in his hotel room playing video games with his team – blissfully unaware of the implications. Enough of that – what does he have left to offer as a player?
He would likely be given the slot that he has most wanted – Number 4 in the batting line-up. For ten years as captain he had to bat lower down in the order to protect the team as an anchor. Given the scenario now, he would want to play the role Yuvraj Singh did not so long ago.
As far as the wicket keeping goes, save a few younger names no one in this country is ready to take over from the man. U19 captain and wicket keeper-batsman Ishan Kishan is one name that cropped up. According to Kishore, what stood out over the Ranji season was his flexibility, footwork and movement.
In this semi-final week, Dhoni spent considerable time with Kishan emphasizing soft hands and agility. He is a good batsman, one who reminds Kishore of Adam Gichrist at least in terms of batting style if nothing else. Delhi’s Rishabh Pant is the other name that crops up – he has been named in the white-ball squad for the series against England.
At the practice sessions the former Indian captain looked supremely confident – lean and strong training with his state side as they looked to reach the Ranji finals for the first time since 2004.
What about the relationship between him and Kohli? Back when the newly minted captain was not the Bradmanesque batsman we know today, there were strong calls to drop him come the Adelaide test in 2012 because of poor form. Dhoni stuck with him – and while he scored his maiden test century in a losing cause, the rest is history.
The two share an excellent rapport – and though the roles are now reversed, rest assured that they would continue to be brothers in arms both on and off the field like they have done all these years.
In a presser, while talking about captaincy, Dhoni said “From Kishore Kumar we have gone to Sean Paul.”
While one is not sure what Kohli’s musical tastes are, the transition will continue into the next few years. Dhoni’s lessons will hold him in good stead no matter what the situation.
“The one duty we owe towards history, is to rewrite it” said Oscar Wilde. Dhoni has stayed true to the adage all throughout his career.
Only time will tell what he does next.