Mahendra Singh Dhoni retired from Test cricket, post drawing a match against Australia at the MCG yesterday. The timing and the method of retirement were extraordinary. It caught the media contingent and everyone completely unawares. He was in a post match press conference less than an hour before the press release announcing his retirement. The press conference was as normal as it could be, not a hint of the impending announcement. Now, if ever there was a case of keeping one’s emotions in check, then this was it. Brilliant!
He retires as the Captain of the Indian cricket team and statistically, the most successful man to have done the job. Under his supervision, India won approx. 40% of the test matches they played. A lot has been written about his home v/s away records. Regardless of all of that, the way he carried himself on and off the field defines his legacy. He has been one of a kind simply because of his intensely private lifestyle. It always seemed that he would be playing to the gallery in his interactions with the media. I don’t know if he has any friends in the media and I would not be surprised if he does not. The Indian media industry has long degraded to decadence and depravity and he dealt with it at an arm’s distance all the way through his career as the Indian team captain. He seems to have learnt that the only way to keep himself sane and committed is to be diplomatic, smile and always make self deprecating comments which make him immune to criticism that is levied at him. Various stories that I have come across about Dhoni have hinted at the aloofness that he maintains with team members and others. He is unique in that sense – I can’t think of any other sportsperson who has been that intensely personal and centered.
The legacy that this leader leaves behind is a team that is representative of the current generation – brash, cocky and not afraid to take on opponents head on. The current crop, generally speaking, articulates well and is open to being combative. Dhoni oversaw the peaks and the depths of the cricket team, witnessed the retirements of multiple great cricketers up close and handed out muliple debut caps to the Gen Next. His style of captaincy and his wicket keeping abilities have both been questioned relentlessly and scrutinized as much as any captain in world cricket. However, he continuously and studiously maintained his self-discipline in answering questions in his usual banal way. Listening to his sound bites would be an exercise in monotony – there would hardly ever be anything that one could take away about him or the team from his monologues.
He continues to be the captain of the Indian team in ODI’s and T20 Internationals. Once he has quit Test matches in this fashion, his time at the helm of the Indian side in the other two formats is unclear. The toll of the past few years on the body and mind is best known to the man himself. Whenever he decides to quit all formats, I will be watching his next moves in life with interest. If looks were anything to go by, he does appear older than his age of 33 years. What will he do next? Someone with his kind of experience and maturity – the possibilities are endless.