I like MS Dhoni. I love MS Dhoni.
I love him as a Test batsman, a Test wicket keeper and yes, even as a Test captain. I loved the way he went about his job. Quaint, elegant and exuding a lot of class. The numbers didn’t add up, fair enough. They never do most times.
Five Test series defeats overseas — no, even a Dhoni fanboy like me can’t justify that. Although, I have braved the cynicism over the years and tried to defend him, let’s admit things went wrong. Especially, for a man who was tagged as a ‘lucky’ captain, things really went south. In the longer format, he took Indian cricket backwards. Yet, he was the only one who took us to the top. The ascent was fascinating but he could never arrest the slide that followed.
Defeat after defeat. Whitewash after whitewash. Then again, if cricket only meant stats, he is also the most successful Indian Test captain.
MS Dhoni has had a complicated relationship with the Indian fans. No wonder the social media went ballistic with the news of his retirement from Tests.
Shocked, surprised, thank God — the reactions traversed the entire spectrum. It was expected because, in India, few love him while the rest, hate his guts. In fact, in the last few years, for Indian fans, he has been nothing but a puppet of the BCCI’s big boss.
We hate him because he dropped Virender Sehwag. We hate him because he kept picking Ishant Sharma. Then, he delivered Lord’s.
We hate him because he couldn’t become our Adam Gilchrist in Tests. He poked, prodded, walked across his stumps, took hits on a bare forearm. He looked dirty as a Test batsman and couldn’t win it in the last over. Then, Chennai happened. With India reeling at eight for four, he mopped up the Manchester mess. And then those 39 deliveries at the ‘G’.
We hate him because he never dived enough to his right. We hate him because of that god-forsaken leg slip.
India lost. We blamed him. India offered a handshake at St. Lucia. We blamed him. The bowlers messed up. We blamed him. The batting collapsed. We blamed him. The slip fielders turned up with Teflon-coated hands. We blamed him.
We lost. We lost some more. We tagged him as the stain on India’s white flannels. He didn’t even flinch. We blamed him for not declaring. We blamed him for losing the toss.
His press conferences were a work of art — short, sharp, witty. Dignity was the operating word; never took the screws to the opposition, hardly whined and veiled his team like a shield. He tried to be funny but we never got his humour.
We hate him because he never got angry. We wanted him to scream in anguish, gush in glory, show his wounds and thump his chest in bravado by hurling verbal volleys at the opponent. We wanted him to show his care for Test cricket but like the estranged boyfriend, he refused to update his relationship status as “in love with”. It wasn’t important for him to show. It was to us.
We couldn’t stand his poker face.
“Congratulations”, said Mark Nicholas as he turned towards MS Dhoni during the presentation. The Indian captain’s left eyebrow arched a bit. He was stumped, just for a moment. Only for that moment.
Next, he did what he always does — gathered himself, kept his emotions in check, answered everything even before the question was asked, praised his team and refused to comment on Australia’s late declaration.
“Cheers Mark”, his parting words.
Mark Nicholas took a dig at India. That “congratulations” was wrapped in an envelope of well-crafted sarcasm. Nicholas congratulated India because they somehow saved a Test. Sitting in my office in Mumbai, my ears burnt and a chill ran down my spine.
Forty-five minutes later, MS Dhoni declared. Well…Of course!