“If you are not 100 percent fit and not at your best (and still play), it’s cheating.” -M.S.Dhoni
Cricket was introduced on a large scale through colonial rule almost two centuries ago and has changed the dynamic of the Indian sports industry ever since. It brings many families across the country together, and sometimes even tears them apart with the constant drama and adrenaline rush between each innings.
In 1971, the Indian Cricket Team toured England to play a series of test matches where they beat the English team 1-0, drawing the other two tests. This was India’s first win on British soil- a turf that belonged to the nation that once ruled over ours. The emotion it aroused back home has since been unmatched. Such is the significance of the Indian Cricket Team in the Indian society. These men carry the hopes and emotions of a nation of hundreds of millions of supporters on their shoulders with every game they play.
However, in the early 2000s, they didn't seem to be very successful. Despite the presence of some of the greatest names in Indian Cricket including the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag and Ganguly, they were unable to bring home a single World Cup Trophy, faltering at the final stages over half of the time. They were in need of an entity who could lead them to glory in the big stages. This search for a leader gave rise to a legend.
This cricket superstar is as sensitive a topic as the sport, if not more, for it is he who brought the Indian Cricket Team to the peak of the sport during his tenure as captain; a tenure that proved to be the most successful one as captain in the history of Indian Cricket. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, born in Ranchi in 1981, represented the Indian Cricket team from 2004 to 2020 and captained the team from 2007 to 2018 across the three formats of the sport.
Dhoni’s retirement from all international formats of the sport on August 15th last year marked a shocking and remorseful day, not just for his fans in India, but also all around the globe. India remained competitive and ambitious since their first World Cup victory in 1983, but always faltered in the final stages of tournaments. Dhoni, on becoming captain, changed that, bringing home all three major trophies of the ICC in a span of merely 6 years. Each game was simplified in his eyes and he always seemed to be prepared for all contingencies. Often regarded as the best wicket-keeper batsman in the history of the sport, Dhoni has achieved feats that his contemporaries could only dream of. He holds the records for the highest score by a wicket-keeper batsman in ODIs, most not-outs, most sixes in ODIs as a captain, and around 15 other astonishing records solely to his name.Memories of his “winning chakka” in the famous 2011 World Cup final along with a remarkable 93 not out in the Wankhede Stadium against Sri Lanka still send shivers down a billion spines along with a tear to a million eyes.
So, what is the dilemma here, I hear you ask? Well, although Dhoni’s international career as a player and a captain is an exemplary record for a sportsperson, his current domestic performances strike the question of whether the sport of cricket really needs him or is it time for Captain Cool to hang his jersey and call it quits.
It is no mystery that Dhoni leads the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League, the most majestic domestic Cricket league on the planet where players from all around the world make time to play for one of the 8 great teams. Dhoni’s team is the second most successful team in the IPL and there is no doubt that achieving this feat for them would not have been as easy, had it not been for the captaincy of this great wicket-keeper who controlled every innings from behind the stumps.
However, despite displaying an impressive physique and fitness for a 39 year old, Dhoni’s performances have been consistently taking a massive dip. Physically, his age does not permit him to be the same person he was 10 years ago. Let’s refer only to his domestic career for a bit. Statistically, Dhoni peaked in the IPL in 2013, with 4 half centuries, and the highest strike rate in his domestic career at 163. But his performances have constantly dwindled over the next couple years, with a lot of inconsistencies. Dhoni played his worst IPL season yet in the 2020 edition, not recording even a single 50+ score. Despite these let downs, the cricketing world rejoiced when he announced that he would definitely be a part of the Super Kings in 2021. Do they really need him, though? Hear me out cause I have a few explanations that might help us understand what exactly Dhoni brings to the sport.
Since it’s commercialisation, the world of cricket slowly began revolving around money. Investments and endorsements play a huge part in every team’s sustainability and to attract investors, the teams are required to provide a certain assurance of success and reliability. Over his vast career, Dhoni has been the epitome of both those factors. He has proven his worth in the sport numerous times by leading his team to success, all this while being a reliable source of leadership, making him an important element to the team.
The Chennai Super Kings are undoubtedly the favourite IPL team among the fans, and the credit for a majority of this following goes only to Dhoni. He has created a fan following for himself that hardly anyone can seem to replicate. Time magazine named Dhoni as one of the “Most Influential People in the World” in 2011 and SportsPro rated Dhoni as the “Sixteenth Most Marketable Athlete in the World” in 2012. He also has an entire movie made based on his early life and career. He adds to the brand value of his franchise at CSK, and in a league as heavily reliant on massive financial backing, Dhoni brings a lot to the table.
Finally, this is one of the most important and the most logical explanations, in my opinion, as to why cricket really needs Dhoni- his experience. Dhoni led the Indian Cricket Team to the world number one rank for their first time while achieving some mind-blowing statistics along the way. He is the only captain in the history of the sport to have won the 3 major ICC tournaments so far, and is also the most experienced captain in the history of Cricket. Under his captaincy, India became the first and only team to whitewash Australia in a test series in Australia in 140 years. After winning the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar heaped praises on Dhoni. He mentioned that it was Dhoni’s calm influence that rubbed off on his teammates, and confidently stated that Dhoni was hands down the best captain he had played under. Many youth playing for the Super Kings also have the opportunity to prosper under Dhoni’s guidance on the field, paving their way to the National team.
I, for one, strongly admire Dhoni’s dedication to his nation and the achievements he has helped the Indian team chase. His style is a sight for sore eyes, and his “Helicopter Shot” has become a national treasure. There is no doubt that Dhoni will go down as the greatest captain in the history of Indian cricket. He will have the love and respect of every cricket viewer, myself included, and his achievements will forever resonate in the ears of generations to come. It is, however, time to give way to the new era. Dhoni has had a long and a very successful career as a wicket-keeper batsman for India and his domestic team in Chennai. His guidance is what led both these teams to achieve so much over the years. However, I believe that his inconsistent performances lately pose him as a liability to the team’s line-up and have also cost them over a couple of victories. Dhoni isn’t the same, quick athlete he used to be, and his age has finally caught up with him. Retiring from international cricket did take away an immense amount of pressure from his shoulders, but it didn't help his performances a lot. His experience, however, is valuable, and can be retained in other ways. I have no doubt that if he announces his candidacy for coach of the Indian Cricket Team somewhere in the future, the Indian Cricketing Board wouldn’t think twice before handing him the position. Sadly, as much as it pains me to say this, at present, Dhoni just isn’t the athlete with the consistency one expects from a player representing Indian Cricket on the international platform.
Every athlete has their time and I think Dhoni has had his; a rather glorious one at that. He has made the most of one of the most prestigious opportunities to represent, and make his nation proud. His performances, however, have dictated that there is an end to every beginning, and this might be the end of one of the most prosperous careers in the history of Indian cricket. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man who brought India eternal glory and pride by dedicating his life to national duty, will forever remain in our hearts and minds as Captain Cool, the man that knew no boundaries.