Mahendra Singh Dhoni, an unorthodox cricketer from a small town Ranchi to the most powerful man of cricket worldwide, retired from Test cricket after the Melbourne Test. It was shocking and took many by surprise because of the timing of the retirement -mid-waythrough the Australia-India Test series. But he chose to retire on his own term, just like the way he batted and captained — with an unusual, enigmatic move that seemed to defy logic and left eyebrows raised around the globe.But it also made him India’s most successful captain of all time.
Dhoni quit Test cricket in style. In his final series in Australia, Dhoni became the first Indian wicketkeeper to effect nine dismissals in a Test match in Melbourne and batted till the end with a score of 24 of 39 balls to draw the match. Dhoni also became the first Indian batsman to complete 10,000 runs or more as captain in international cricket.
Dhoni, India’s most successful captain in all cricketing formats, had many highs in his extraordinary Test cricket career. He played 90 Tests and captained India in most Test matches,adding up to 60. He recorded most Test wins at 27, lost 18 and drawn 15, averaging 45 per cent win -the highest by any Indian captain, beating the previous best of Sourav Ganguly’s 21 wins, 13 losses and 15 drawn, averaging 42.85 per cent.
Dhoni was the first and remains only captain to lead India to No.1 position in Test ranking, starting from December 2009 which lasted for 18 months. Under his captaincy, India became the first team in more than four decades to whitewash Australia 4-0 in a Test series in 2012-13.
However, Dhoni's fortunes crashed over the past coupleof years in Test after the World Cup win in 2011, especially with the embarrassing whitewash in Australia and England each with 4-0. Questions were raised on his passive captainship. He tried all he could, but due to lack of resources he could not do much, especially bowlers who could take 20 wickets in overseas condition, and failure to put big scores by Indian batsmen. Since then the thought of retiring from Test cricket began to brew in Dhoni’s mind. Finally, with Kohli ready to take the mantle - though still learning, maturing and a long way to go - Dhoni left Test cricket forever to concentrate on One Day and T20 formats, in which he remains invincible.
Dhoni will remain the most selfless player who did not bother with personal records. He needed six catches/stumpings to complete 300record by any Indian wicketkeeper, 124 more runs to his 4876 runs to complete the 5,000 mark and 10 more Test matches to complete 100. He could have easily carried on for a couple of years more and completed these landmarks. But, unlike many players,he did not bother with records and a fanfare farewell.
Indian Test cricket will miss Dhoni not only as a captain, but Dhoni the ‘Big Player’ who often performed as a wicket-keeper batsman in the most crucial situation. His six centuries, 33 half centuries out which 13 half-centuries in conditions that aided swing and seam bowling (NZ, SA, Eng and Aus) and that too batting with tail-enders which often diminished his chance to score a century, an unbeaten 76 at Lord's (2007), the second highest scorer for India during the English summer, a double hundred in Chepauk in a day and a record of 38 stumpings in Test cricket. He had the adaptability to display persistence required in extreme pressure of Test cricket. This will be hard to fill.
Dhoni’s rise to international cricket has been phenomenal in a very short period of time. Coming from small town in Ranchi with an amazing, unorthodox and extraordinary batting skill to hit the sixes soon,made him the most valued and most powerful cricketer in the world.
No one could have imagined that any cricketer would compete with Sachin Tendulkar during his career in terms of value and popularity. Dhoni became the most scrutinised cricketer after Tendulkar and today he is the richest cricketer of the world. Dhoni led India to all the great achievements a cricketing team can aspire for: No.1 Test ranking for 18 months starting December 2009, No.1 One Day and T20 team, the 50-over World Cup in 2011, the World Twenty20 on his captaincy debut in 2007, ICC Champions Trophy and many overseas series wins and championships.
In fact,very few would have handled the hope, scrutiny, stress and extreme adulation better than MS Dhoni. Despite all upheavals during his cricketing career, he remained level headed, calm and a perfect gentlemen be it on the ground or post-match conferences keeping the essence of the ‘gentlemen’s game’ intact. Praising him,cricketing legend and the former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar, has expressed:"He was a top class leader...the biggest thing about Mahendra Singh Dhoni is he's been a supremely content person with whatever has come his way in life. No better state to be in than being supremely content."
Though Dhoni has retired from the Test cricket he would remain India’s greatest cricket captain for a long time. Now he will be watched for his next move of how he defends the World Cup and his cricketing years ahead in ODI and T20 formats, in which his records are already unparalleled for any Indian captain and on many accounts the world’s best. From here, this cricketing legend’s stature will only soar higher.
Dr Ashok Sharma, an Honorary Academic in Politics and International Relations, The University of Auckland and Deputy Chair, New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, Auckland Branch, is an astute observer of cricket.