PakPassion forums member @DHONI183 pens a heartfelt tribute to MS Dhoni after India’s World Cup-winning captain announced his retirement from international cricket on 15th August 2020.
By DHONI183 (16th August, 2020)
There’s a sense of numbness ever since I’ve got the news. Quite like MS Dhoni himself, I’m a man built without emotions. I’m devoid of them. I tend to react to things in a very subdued manner, whether they be good happenings or bad ones. A bit like a robot. However, I can’t deny the inner jolt that I felt when my father broke the news to me, having read it on a Pakistan news channel. I felt a certain shakiness in my voice when I then shared the news with my mother. The news has come at quite a bad time for me. I’m battling some severe yet mysterious, undiagnosed symptoms which are at their peak right now. Besides, I’m busy writing a book, a novel, which requires all my attention and focus. I didn’t need this distraction. I wasn’t ready. But, would I’ve ever been ready for this? I don’t know.
MS wasn’t a sportsman, neither a cricketer, nor a captain, or merely a wicket-keeper. He was much more than that. He was a culture, a thinking, a thought process. He was a kind of software or some kind of a system. Staying calm and collective under severe pressure, cracking jokes and smiling as if he’s most unbothered by the result of the match. Taking matches right down to the wire - sometimes causing me severe heart palpitations witnessing the drama - and then winning as if it was a film scripted where the hero suddenly downs the villain and all his helpers with one blow.
I’ll be honest, I often wanted to give up following this mad man because the nervousness was too hard to take, but this feeling would only last five minutes following a tight match as right afterward I used to sit there and enjoy the praise showered upon my favorite cricketer. Sometimes I ask myself why I chose this man for so much admiration based on only his first good innings, 148 against Pakistan at Vizag, and then I conclude that this was just meant to be. I had by then already given so much energy into admiring him that it would’ve been a major heartbreak for me if he had gone on to play badly in the years to follow, or had turned out to be a mindless slogger lacking game awareness.
But all of that didn’t happen. Somehow, it didn’t. MS kept on achieving one height after another. Soon thereafter came the series in which he made 183 not out (the innings which is the reason behind my username DHONI183 on PakPassion.Net) and delivered some other good performances too in the series. Then the ODI series in Pakistan where he tore apart the Pakistan bowling attack.
Despite being a Pakistani, I must confess that sports have always had a meaning for me beyond the aspect of patriotism and being a traitor. I used to stay mum on the issue lest I should hurt the sentiment of my fellow countrymen, but deep down, I derived immense pleasure seeing Dhoni do well against us. You can’t explain this as to why it was so, but you can closely compare this to a situation where there’s a competition between your son (or even daughter) and the children of your siblings, cousins or even friends, as to whose child is better at education and professional life. Despite being around 10 years older than me, MS was my son. I felt targeted and taunted at each failure of his. I felt as if the critics were pointing fingers at me for being the “father” of such a child.
There’s an interesting aspect to this feeling, actually. Often, you have old men with unfilled wishes and desires, telling their son or grandson, “Go, my son, achieve the heights which I couldn’t. Fulfill the wishes which I couldn’t” - dialogue uttered with a sense of regret. My case is similar. I’ve never quite shared much about myself on social media platforms or anywhere, but for MS’ sake, I’m ready to openly disclose this much that all my life I’ve suffered from health issues which have prevented me from leading a physically active life or taking part in any sport. The more the hurdles, the more I desired to do all this. It’s human nature, I suppose. However, I had to settle with merely watching sports, cricket to be precise, and a bit of soccer. A boy aging 14 years and four months or so, still to come to terms with my life ahead with the health issues that I suffered from, I saw this man called Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Long hair, well built, strong, and powerful. Just one inning, and I decided that this Indian will lead the days of youth and exuberance, which weren’t written in my fate. He’ll become what I couldn’t. He’ll do what I can’t. He’ll be my avatar in cricket. From that moment, his success and failure and my success and failure become one and the same. He became a 24-year-old “son” to a 14-year-old “father,” and we both never looked back.
People have different standards to judge players. Many use Statsguru filters and lists of numbers to analyze their abilities, but my standard to measure was different. The concept of players performing under pressure always fascinated me, right from my childhood. Seeing how MS ended up acquiring that ability quite early in his career, I compiled a list of crunch innings played by him in under pressure situations in ODI as well as Test cricket, and there were many in the former format. The list has been compiled over a period of a decade, and it was updated regularly.
This particular list, in my view, will forever keep paying tribute to his ability to perform under extreme pressure situations. Besides that, completely based on my memory, I’ve also compiled a list of the number of international matches that he had finished with a six (one Test match, three T20Is, and nine ODIs) - a habit that he was most famous for - and another list of the number of sixes hit by him in international cricket with the helicopter (and the bowlers that they were hit off), which were six. Another list was about his record in ODI cricket when requiring 10 runs or more: four won, two lost, and a tied game where he was up against the best in the business, Lasith Malinga, although the runs required here were nine. All these lists have been compiled completely based on my memory. Besides this, till 2009 or so, I had it in my memory as to how he had been dismissed in each innings the past four years. Each dismissal.
He doesn’t know me and probably never will, but our bond ran deeper than just being a fan and a favorite cricketer. Sometimes I felt as if messages were transmitted to him about the situation in my life. When in 2005, I suffered a fracture to my right upper-arm, the injury was so severe that I suffer from its consequences even to this day. The injury badly impacted my overall health and left damage that could never be repaired. Until that point, I could lift a bat and play cricket with my brother or my father, but never again after that setback. Days of immense discomfort and pain they were, for me and my family. Next up was the series against Sri Lanka, a series that ended up becoming the defining one of his career. He absolutely blasted the Sri Lankan bowling attack with such brutality that it completely took my mind off the fractured arm. It felt as if MS did that for me.
Not only that, but I can also relate to many strange coincidences between his performances and my personal life. The first time ever that someone expressed her feelings for me, MS celebrated the occasion with a brilliant century against Australia in 2009. He had to. Something unique had happened after all. The second time that someone entered my life, MS celebrated the occasion by winning the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. He won the Asia Cup 2010 right after a life-threatening abdominal surgery that I underwent. However, the effects of that surgery still lingered on even almost a year afterward.
I still needed something bigger from him, and he obliged by doing that thing on 2nd April 2011. I don’t remember the occasion, I don’t remember what exactly happened, but I remember being in tears of joy when he clobbered one over wide long-on. It was the most nervous day that I’ve ever been through as a cricket fan. I just didn’t know how to react once he bravely walked out to bat at number five. Kohli was dismissed; I went to the other room to offer the afternoon prayer. Before I began, my brother said, “Dhoni! He has walked out to bat!” I offered the prayer and then returned to watch the match. I had begun with a course of an antibiotic that day, which as a main side-effect, caused jitteriness and dizziness. I should’ve begun with it a day after I know. A foolish decision, but no regrets as long as that happened what did happen that evening.
I must share something amazing here. Being a teenager who was completely dominated by the thoughts of MS hitting sixes and fours, I once had a dream at the age of 15 or 16 that MS had scored a century batting second in a World Cup Final, winning his team the game. I’ve never shared this dream with anyone before. I used to laugh at the dream and would dismiss it as a fantasy of a teenager, especially given the disgrace that he and the team faced in the World Cup 2007. Then on 2nd April 2011, the dream came true. Well, he didn’t quite make a century, but 91 not out is acceptable, I would think. Also, he was neither the captain in my dream! It’ll always be a dream, and the wildest fantasy of fans to see their favorite players do well on the biggest stage of all and MS fulfilled mine. Truly indebted to him for my entire life for making me enjoy the most brilliant day of my life in sports.
It feels as if a whole lifetime has been spent with him. When he debuted, we hadn’t even settled properly in Germany. My father was still in Pakistan, and none of my siblings had got married yet. Now, I’ve four nieces and two nephews. Funnily, there was once a space of time in ODI cricket when England had last dismissed him a few days before my brother’s wedding, and they then dismissed him again a few weeks after the birth of my brother’s daughter. Dhoni was amongst the names taught to my nieces. One of my nieces even drew a trophy and wrote “MS Dhoni” next to it, telling me that it’s for him because he wins them. Amongst the proudest moments for me came when he made that unbelievable century against Pakistan in Chennai, a match in which India looked well on course to be getting bowled out for under 70 or 80. When he was blasting the Pakistan fast bowlers out of the park the last few overs, my father nodded in appreciation and told me that this was some serious stuff. I even received congratulatory messages from my fellow Pakistanis, acknowledging that I had indeed chosen a seriously capable guy for this level of appreciation. It was the stuff of champions!
My admiration for him also resulted in a clash of principles for me, for, ever since growing up, one of my principles has been not to blindly defend things which can’t be defended, or were obviously wrong. My criticism, nay, very heavy criticism of his captaincy, especially in Test cricket, is well documented everywhere. But, today is not the day to talk about that.
Today is the day to cherish the brilliant career that he had. Due to his good performances and unbelievable numbers, some said that he’d be the next Tendulkar. Some were of the view that he’ll be the next Gilchrist, but we here we stand today, celebrating the man who made his own identity. There’ll never be another Dhoni, never. There was a method to being MS, there was a method to this madness. Nobody will ever willingly let the game become almost lost and gone, only to breathe life into it again by hitting the big ones. No one will ever again calmly deal in singles and doubles when the required run-rate will keep increasing to over a double every ball. No one will make 12 off an over through six doubles to combine urgency with the elimination of risk. No one will ever again dare to tell the number 11 batsman to block through the 49th over so that he can make it one man against one in the 50th over. This requires guts, this requires courage, it required MS.
Even as a captain, his career was full of decisions that make you wonder to this day as to how they ended up working. How many will dare to give the ball to Joginder Sharma in the last over? How many would’ve stuck with Ishant when he was single-handedly losing India the final in 2013? How many captains would’ve walked out to bat ahead of the Man of the Tournament in a World Cup Final, despite being in horrible touch? Three decisions beyond the explanations provided by the law of gravity, three decisions that won three world events.
He also brought a strange logic to cricket as a captain, which was that the better of the two bowlers should bowl the second last over so that the lesser bowler could then have a cushion of more runs to defend in the last over. This went completely against the tradition of giving the best bowler the last over. MS wasn’t meant to be another Tendulkar, Gilchrist, Imran Khan (in terms of leadership) or anyone else; he was meant to break the traditions of the game, he was meant to trust himself to get 10 or 15 off the last over. He was meant to win all three global tournaments, as well as lead his side to the number one ranking.
We often forget that he was perhaps India’s first captain ever who prioritized fitness and good fielding. He changed the culture of the team. As a batsman, we saw an amazing transformation in his game the moment he became the captain. From being a batsman who used to have a strike-rate of over 100, we saw how he became one of the most difficult batsmen to dislodge. This transformation started from the CB Series in Australia in 2008. Very rarely, he used to get out down to the effort of the bowler, as most of the time, he would get out pushing for runs towards the closing stages of the match or being required to take risks as demanded by the required run-rate. He had kind of become a wall in ODI cricket, in spite of having a non-existent technique. It was all hand-eye coordination and willpower. He was incredibly hard to dismiss. Such a transformation in one’s game is an example for many that one has to compromise on his natural game for the cause of the team.
His peak years obviously were from 2005 to 2014, but that one innings in the World Cup Final 2011 instilled so much confidence in him that he began to trust himself to take on the world all alone. It made him an all-time great in the format, and my point is fully established through the fact that most of these tight finishes came after 2011. His average too shot up to over 50 from that point, and it stayed there. Those three to four years were a dream phase for me. I knew that the game was never over till he was batting. It was amazing how he combined aggressive cricket with safe hitting, with the element of less risk. He was a batsman with insurance: his false strokes didn’t necessarily mean that they’ll find fielders if they didn’t land in the stands.
His mind was like a calculator. If 40 were required off four overs, he would never get greedy to get 15 or 20 of those in one over, for the calculator in his mind had already divided the required target into four parts. He trusted the calculator more than anything else. He was one of the greatest minds ever produced by the game. He became a superman of cricket. Some great entertainment, jaw-dropping moments, and heart-stopping thrillers. His last international innings defines him more than anything else. Early wickets, him fighting the collapse, batting with the tail, in the end, the required run-rate well over reachable heights, and the whole world watches on in the hope of yet another miracle. Everyone knew that he was the lone man standing between India and the defeat. This defined him more than the matches that he won. This was the Dhoni territory, and this is what he was made for, regardless of the result.
Life moves on, and it has to, but today my good friend retires following a great career, giving me so many memories to relive in my mind. Amongst these memories relates to the match against Bangladesh in the World T20 2016, when a friend from Canada had visited me. India had lost all hopes of winning the match. They would’ve been knocked out of the tournament well before the semi-finals had they lost the match. My friend was dead sure that the match is done and dusted, as did the entire world. He trolled me to no end; I tolerated him patiently. Two of three required, Mushfiqur had hit two boundaries just before that. My friend jumped in joy. I tolerated. Two defended, India won by one run. MS, instead of throwing the ball at the stumps, walked all the way to the stumps to dislodge them. No risk taken, match secured. No reaction followed from him. It was as if India had won the most boring match ever in the history of mankind. He never reacted, did he? Seeing how he behaved on the field, I too didn’t troll my friend. All I did was to give him a typical trollish MS smile. He was furious. His face was totally red. Amongst the most memorable moments of my life. MS trolled my friend!
Following his career over the years and the way he handled things, I had become a very brave fan, mind you. I wanted him to be batting out there in pressure-cooker situations, I wanted to see him battle the nerves himself. I had developed trust in him, even when he wasn’t the same player anymore the recent years
Some of my habits and the way I go about things in life is very similar to me. Trust me, I didn’t copy him. It’s just that it just happened. Many of the things that matched between us, I discovered about them very late through interviews and reports about his personal life. Perhaps it was meant to be? I don’t know. All that I know is that I’ll miss him. All the years, all the memories from the last 15 years kept playing through my mind the whole night. Nostalgia is all that I’m now left with. Looking forward to seeing him play for the CSK. All the best to him and his family for the years ahead.