In the last 14 years that I have seen you play, I never thought that I would get to witness the sight which I did yesterday. It was the second ball of the 47th over of the semi-final between India and New-Zealand of the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Dhoni played the ball on the off side and ran for a double as he didn’t want to leave the strike. The ball went to Martin Guptill and he threw it towards the stumps. That a direct hit and Dhoni missed the crease by a mere margin of 3 cm.
Although the chase since the very first ball was not up to the mark, still there was hope. After your wicket, most of us knew, it was over. Your wicket was pretty much like the final nail in the blue coffin of India. You have taken us over the line in numerous matches. Yesterday was an exception. For some, it may be the end of India’s journey in this campaign but for many of us, it was an end of an era in many ways. For me and many others, the sight of you weeping after not being able to win the match was simply heartbreaking. Why? Because we are dawned by some harsh realizations. In addition, we get to see that our ‘Captain Cool’ is, after all, a human too.
This shows the fickle nature of the sport. One moment you were on the top of the table and confidence; it seemed world was at your feet, while moments later, you were 25 for 4 struggling in the deep troughs and hoping that your experience which make us cross the cross these chaotic waves.
Most of the men who started their career with you are long gone now. At 38, when the world thought that the things are not well with you; the oddball was hurrying you up; heave of a loog length ball was landing into the hands of long on instead of the crowd; the world thought your career was over, then came the steady innings against England in the World Cup. It was enough for your critics to shout that your slow innings cost the match, but in reality, it wasn’t.
But 14 years is a long time span Mahi. Just think about it. Do you remember your early days in 2004? Aahh! Your that avtaar is cherished by the fans like me across the globe. There was a sparkle in your eyes which was beyond your age. Your brisk walk was enough for us to assume that the future of Indian cricket is in safe hands. You were just assassinating the bowlers, treating them like street players and showering your massive sizes towards the crowd. It seemed like we were witnessing the full flight of a bird that was absolutely carefree. That was the Dhoni we fell in love with and that is the image of Dhoni which still resides in our hearts.
But over the years, as all great sportsmen do, you evolved. From a tormentor, you metamorphosed into a mature finisher. This phase of your career was more exciting than the first one. You were now taking the match into the last over (which was your territory) and forcing bowler to make mistakes. In this process, you have us some nail-biting finishes with a Zen-like calmness on your face.
Captaining Indian side is a completely different matter altogether, isn’t it? You have to decide the team combination, rotate the bowlers, shuffle the fielder around and keep the wickets too. And on the top of it, you have to face the media more often. It was the time when you sharp cricketing skills earned you a lot of respect. But at the same time, it took a lot out of you. Didn’t it? Still, you never complained. Those 8 years of your captaincy are still etched in the memories of all of us.
Then on one fine morning of 2017, I woke up to the news that you have given up the captaincy. It was no more than a thundershock. Probably leading the team took a toll on you and you were the man you never gave anything less than 100 percent on the field. Your age meter was almost touching 40, so you must have thought that it is the right time to pass on the baton to Kohli and allow him to settle in the shoes while you are around.
But, the last year and a half made us see a completely different side of yours. A Dhoni who has not imposed any limitations upon himself, a Dhoni who takes his time to settle down then doesn’t give the bowler a chance to settle. The sparkle in your eyes which was lost somewhere is back too. Runs automatically started coming from your bat and ball started soaring over the crowd. The bowlers are once again afraid to face you. And when that’s happening, our heart skips a beat too!
And this is exactly, how you have been playing. Why think of things like retirement when even the opposition wants you to play for them? We want you to play for us!
Go and have fun. Because when you have fun, we too have fun.
-An ardent cricket fan