Do you think you are a pal do pal ka shaayar? No MS. You are timeless.
Did I not see it coming? I did. To tell the truth, I started to feel that an official confirmation was no more required. But the unending speculations around MS Dhoni were troublesome. Though it’s true that his retirement has saddened his fans and myself to the innermost core of the soul, it is a relief that the excruciating guessing game has finally come to a halt.
At times, alive hopes can be more painful than the shattered ones. The hope, the very tiny, unrealistically optimistic hope of watching Mahi in the India colours has been given hemlock; poisoned to perpetual sleep. But if that’s the case, so be it. I could sob and whine and yell and whimper, none of that would bring him back. Not even once. It won’t.
Not that anything about this pandemic is likeable, but it’ll be abhorred all the more if it preponed or propelled MS’s retirement. There shall remain a question in my head till eternity: Would he have played the T20 WC had it not been postponed? I don’t think I’m alone in questioning that. Many must be. This is an unknown that joins a long list of unknowns about MS Dhoni. When did, in the last 15 years, the enigma of Dhoni ceased to exist?
The most unglamorous man with the most glamorous silence…
It takes something to be in the midst of public, to be watched and loved by billions, and yet stay as secretive as he was. The fog that surrounded him, the obscurity, and the mystery of MSD was of course not limited to his actions on the field. There he always kept his adversaries guessing. But after 2014, he kept people guessing about him even off it. That’s the first time he told that what ordinary men can’t dare to imagine, he can do in actuality.
India was touring Australia, and the man, the incumbent captain, retires! Right in the middle of the series. That he retired with 90 Tests tells us if personal milestones mattered to him. 10 out of 10 would’ve waited for the 100th Test. And nowhere is it criminal to desire to play a hundred Tests for your nation, that too when you have 90 already. But this was to become a routine for MS Dhoni. No farewell, no adieu, no announcement, nothing. Gone. Just like that.
The fanatics delved deeper to bring out the hints… hints that told that it was his last in the whites for India… hints that he did not give, but actions that turned hints in the hindsight. MS never souvenired a stump in a drawn match. That day? He did. He was never seen on a call immediately after the end of a match. That day? He was.
Dhoni relinquishing his captaincy in limited-overs cricket in 2017 was no different story. He was the one stepping aside from the role, and yet he was the one who spoke about it the least. I have seen many legends. We all have. But Dhoni, apart from redefining the game, redefined the definition of a legend too. He was the most unglamorous man with the most glamorous silence.
Calm fearlessness of the great gambler
Not to disrepute his achievements, but every time the name “MS Dhoni” is pronounced, the mentions of 148, 183*, winning the World Cup of 2007 and 2011, 91*, ICC Champions trophy 2013, 3 IPLs, 2 Champions League T20, inevitably come up. Well, all of it just got a mention again! But to judge Dhoni by these standards would be to judge him rather myopically. He is much beyond.
There are many untellable for numbers. And I say at the cost of sounding repetitive, that statistics do not encapsulate the intangibles. In a list of lessons that MS Dhoni taught us, one of the most significant was to trust in the process and believe in one. In Dhoni, there’s no room for self-doubt. He was a forthright, straightforward man who was unperturbed by what surrounded him. He held his nerves in the tensest moments and amidst a hundred voices of no, he would be the one pronouncing yes.
The game of cricket came naturally to him, for he never pursued it. Victories and achievements? They were just a consequence of his actions. In his illustrious career of a decade and a half, not once did I see him not believing in himself. Dhoni, the person, was a rare combination of intuition, control, judgement, and experience.
To quote clichés, be it handing the ball to Joginder Sharma over Harbhajan Singh in 2007 or be it coming ahead of Yuvraj Singh at Wankhede in April 2011; be it handing the ball to Ashwin against a marauder of spin bowling like Gayle or giving Ishant Sharma the 18th over with England needing 28 off 18 in the Champions Trophy final; be it deflecting direct throws with eyes off the stump or taking the game to the deepest zone in a chase, he kept faith in himself and the results followed.
Make no mistake, it is not about luck. The stars aligned in his favour so often that many conveniently name his success luck, but Dhoni was too priced a player to rely only on luck. Destiny favoured him, but it favours only the brave. He took chances, but never half-measures. Dhoni’s risks were brash but calculated; audacious but assessed. He had a calm fearlessness that he showed so often. MS was a great gambler but his gambles were never flukes.
Harbinger of hope, detester of attention, superstar without glitz
There was always a sense of belief so long as he was there. One never felt like losing until MS Dhoni was around. He brought in with him the most potent force of expectation and hope in sport. We did hope, but more than that we expected India to win when he was there. Even in what turned out to be his last game for India in the coloured jersey, there was a sense of “we can do it” until he was there. So what if it was difficult? Dhoni was still there and until he was, no target was out of reach. He was the harbinger of hope for India.
And that’s why the moment that broke a billion hearts was not the wicket of India’s best batsman, Virat Kohli. Neither it was the wicket of one of India’s finest openers; one in red-hot form in the World Cup 2019, Rohit Sharma. It wasn’t KL Rahul or Dinesh Karthik either. It was Dhoni… it was his dismissal that broke a billion hearts. We would never be able to quantify the burden, the pressure he took upon himself as he carried the hopes and expectations of billions of people every time he made a walk for India.
In my years of following him, I have heard about how India will never get a one-man army like him. How we will never get a shrewd leader, a crafty keeper, an astute skipper, and the ablest finisher in one body of bones and flesh. Yes, we certainly won’t. But what we also won’t get is a man simpler, a man humbler, a man wittier, and a man meeker than him.
What a big deal we made of him! But none of it reflected in the way he carried himself. MS Dhoni did not behave like the ‘Dhoni’ we made him. He was a superstar without the glitz. A detester of attention. Even if he would have made his ground in Manchester that day and would have made India cross the line like he did 1,14,221 times in his career, where would he have been? In the corner. Away from the eyes, away from the attention. He would have contently watched the younger ones take centre-stage and would have stood and rejoiced quietly in the corner.
He enjoyed his time, remained unfazed, found equal joy in good and bad, accepted defeats and wins with equal poise, and proved how simplicity rides above pretence. Towards the end, there was an air of mystery and a sense of nonchalance. He kept everyone guessing about what was coming. And what was not? An Instagram post. A 4-minute video. And two lines of the caption underneath. A video that had an instructive choice of photos, selected moments of highs and lows. That’s all it took. That’s how he did. And that’s how exited again without drumbeats.
But do you think you are a pal do pal ka shaayar? No MS. You are timeless.