Will the 2019 World Cup Be All About Dhoni?


Will the 2019 World Cup Be All About Dhoni?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

MS Dhoni cemented his place in the squad by rolling back the years with back-to-back fifties as India won its first bilateral ODI series in Australia earlier this year. Since 2014, when he abruptly retired from Test cricket in the middle of a series, and then gave up Team India’s captaincy in all formats in 2016, it seems as if he has been shedding all the baggage and getting ready for his final act in cricket – the 2019 World Cup.

His first two World Cups couldn’t have been farther away from each other in terms of results. By 2007, with his hard-hitting exploits, Dhoni had already laid to waste the dreams of Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel of being the first-choice keeper. But the tournament itself was an unmitigated disaster. Dhoni, who was then building a house in Jharkhand, had irate fans shamelessly pelt stones and vandalise his home. It got so bad the team had to be whisked out of the airport under the cover of darkness and with heavy police security to protect them from seething mobs while returning from the tournament.

That year must have changed Dhoni’s perspective on fame. Four months later, the team found itself surrounded by police while landing at the airport yet again. This time, it was different. Fans couldn’t get enough of the young captain who had just won the inaugural T20 World Cup. Fame is a double-edged sword, and this yin-yang experience influenced Dhoni’s “Captain Cool” approach that led to him becoming India’s most successful on-field leader.

MS Dhoni and India celebrate their Victory in the Final of Twenty20 World Cup held at the Wanderers on September 24, 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Image Credits: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Yet for all his many achievements, his crowning glory will always be that magical April 2 night in 2011 at Wankhede Stadium, where he shrugged off indifferent form to promote himself up the order after Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag both fell cheaply. A World Cup final isn’t the ideal place to rediscover one’s confidence. It’s a place where things can unravel very quickly, but Dhoni’s captain’s innings that day propelled India to assured victory. When he struck the final ball for a six with his trademark helicopter shot, he etched his name into the annals of immortality.

If he springs another surprise and announces his retirement before the World Cup, it will no doubt be a crushing blow to his fans.

Though 2011 will forever be Dhoni’s biggest feat as captain, that edition of the World Cup was all about Sachin Tendulkar. It was billed as his last hurrah, his fifth and final shot at World Cup glory. The legend had played a couple of pivotal innings in the cup, the 85 against Pakistan in the semi-final giving many of us near heart attacks. But on the night of the final, in front of his home crowd, Tendulkar fell for 18, leaving fans disconsolate. On that night, Dhoni did two things. He led from the front, but when the time came for celebrations, he made the moment all about Sachin Tendulkar. Team India’s first World Cup win since 1983 was for him.

After Tendulkar, it is safe to say that Dhoni was the next mass player, the one who could arouse passions with his nonchalant demeanour, selfless play, and brutal hitting.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been eight long years since Dhoni realised the dreams of a billion Indians. He has accomplished more than any Indian captain. His legacy is already secure, his story an inspiration to millions.

There are great players. But very few endear themselves to adoring crowds who root for them, wherever they go. After Tendulkar, it is safe to say that Dhoni was the next mass player, the one who could arouse passions with his nonchalant demeanour, selfless play, and brutal hitting. The most critical facet of his rise to the top of India’s cricketing pantheon is that he gave people from small towns the licence to dream impossible dreams. In 2001, he was a railway ticket collector. In 2005, he was taking the Pakistani and Sri Lankan bowlers to the cleaners. It was these qualities that allowed Dhoni to march to victory in 2011. 

This World Cup a lot has changed. Tendulkar is in the commentary box. Virat Kohli is the man in-charge. And Dhoni like Tendulkar is playing a vital supporting role.

Just like Dhoni and his boys wanted to win the cup for Tendulkar in 2011, Team India will want to win it for someone else in 2019.

They will want to win it for MS Dhoni.

This is an updated version of a story published earlier.