Gut feeling and a sense of timing have always marked Mahendra Singh Dhoni'decision-makingng process in his illustrious captaincy stint and he once again showed that when he stumped one and all with his decision to step down as skipper of India's limited overs team.
No one knows whether Dhoni has read the poem 'Invictus' or watched Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman recite it in his deep baritone: I am the Master of My fate, I am the Captain of My soul.
The context of the poem may have been different but in spirit somewhere, Dhoni may find it eerily similar to his thought process leading up to the decision last night.
No Indian cricketer since Sunil Gavaskar showed such poise, grace, and sense of foresight as the flamboyant cricketer from Jharkhand stepped down from the limited overs captaincy via a BCCI announcement yesterday. When Gavaskar announced his decision to quit captaincy, it was after winning Benson and Hedges World Championship in 1985 and after scoring that epic 96 on a Chinnaswamy minefield in 1987, he called time on his illustrious career with people craving for more.
The most cliched statement that we hear from sportspersons is that "we don't play for records" but then hardly a few believe in what they say. But in Dhoni's case, two instances would sum up his philosophy that he does not play for records. When he retired from Test cricket, he was 10 short of completing 100 matches for the country but in his heart he knew Virat Kohli was ready for the job. Dhoni went with his gut feeling. Similarly, the first ODI against England on January 15 in Pune would have been his 200th match as captain but he would not bother. 90 and 199 are two telling numbers that tell the story. So, Dhoni did not care for records.
His decision gives Kohli exactly 30 months' time to get his team ready for the next World Cup, but more so it shows that Dhoni always had the best interest of Indian cricket in mind.
With two World Cups (one 50-over and one T20) India won under his leadership, Dhoni will remain India's greatest limited overs captain and perhaps among India's top five ODI players along with Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Kapil Dev and Kohli. Just like a film actor has some defining roles, Dhoni will be remembered for two decisions that made him the 'Captain Cool' for generations to come. The first was giving Joginder Sharma the final over during inaugural T20 World Cup summit clash against Pakistan.
The second was promoting himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh and winning that 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai. It was a man who had the guts and gumption to take decisions which could have gone awry and made him look silly. There's a bit of gambler in many of us but MSD was a bigger 'Punter' than Ricky Ponting ever was.
It's not easy to express one's feelings explicitly when it comes to dropping legends but Dhoni knew that Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid could become liabilities on the field on big Australian grounds and hence he conveyed his feelings to the selection committee before 2008 CB series. Both Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma were revelations during that series, and that proved Dhoni's decision right.
Dhoni was not a technically gifted batsman but his temperament stood out and the 9110 ODI runs he has scored till now from 283 matches is a testimony of that. He has scored 1112 runs from 73 T20 International matches at an average of 35.87.
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A player with a firm bottom hand grip, his signature 'helicopter' shot where he whipped the ball at the block hole straight into the stands earned him fans aplenty. But then, how many players knew the value of converting one's into two's and two's into three's. Once he became captain, he curbed his slam-bang approach pacing his innings to perfection. On slow sub-continental pitches when others found it difficult to manoeuvre, he did that with elan.
If Tendulkar was the best judge of a single, Dhoni certainly was the best judge of a double. His keeping was questioned at the beginning of his career but in his later years, he developed his own distinctive style. The back flick run-outs are treat to watch and he has been swift as anyone else on turning tracks.
Dhoni had an aggressive game but not in body language. He believed words like "revenge" are too strong to be used in sports. And boy, he had a dry sense of humour, very distinctive and his own style.
Once David Warner and Ravindra Jadeja had a war of words and Dhoni was asked about it at end of the match. He smiled wryly and said: "That's what happens when schoolboys graduate to college." And he invited an Australian journalist, who asked about his retirement, up on the dais after World T20 semifinal loss. Some found it funny and some rude but then Dhoni is Dhoni.
There's an old YouTube video of Dhoni singing the iconic Mukesh song "Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon" from the Bollywood film "Kabhi Kabhi". Well MSD is much more than a "Do pal ka shayar". He's an entertainer par excellence. He is now running the last lap of his fantastic career. We should all enjoy till it lasts.