MS Dhoni Had a Fairytale Career But May Not Get a Fairytale Ending

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MS Dhoni Had a Fairytale Career But May Not Get a Fairytale Ending

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

There is something poetic about the recluse artist. JD Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye and then went into hiding. It might be a bit of a stretch to compare MS Dhoni to JD Salinger, but after the World Cup in 2019, he seemingly fell off the radar. He first said he was taking a sabbatical from the game. Then he hardly said anything, leaving cricket fans to come up with their own theories. Today, the BCCI finally spoke by not awarding him a central contract, which is an indication that he will not be picked for upcoming tournaments.

In the most public of avatars, Dhoni has somehow managed to remain an enigma. When VVS Laxman announced his retirement just before the start of a home series in 2012, he was asked if he had informed Dhoni. He famously replied that he couldn’t get through his phone. I wonder if the BCCI will make the same excuse.

For the last six months, one of India’s most famous cricketers has not said a word about his future or his retirement plans. And now it seems the BCCI might be taking that decision out of his hands. The writing has been on the wall for a while now; the question is, has Dhoni read it himself?

Dhoni never seemed to be someone desperate to hold on to his place, seeking one last shot at glory.

As much as we believe cricketers are public figures and that we are somehow intertwined with their lives, it is a figment of our imagination. Virat Kohli is an open book, his emotions always laid threadbare for everyone to see, but his differences with Rohit Sharma will always keep us guessing. On the other hand, Dhoni has taken obtuseness to a different level.

MS Dhoni hasn’t played a single international match after the heartbreaking semi-final game against New Zealand at the World Cup last July, where he seemed to be struggling to play the big shots with ease. What was surprising about Dhoni’s neither-here-nor-there situation is that he always seemed to be someone who never hesitated to make a decision. The Dhoni we saw this World Cup was starkly different from the one we witnessed in 2007.

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MS Dhoni hasn’t played a single international match after the heartbreaking semi-final game against New Zealand at the World Cup last July, where he seemed to be struggling to play the big shots with ease.

Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

In the T20 World Cup final, he handed the ball to rookie Joginder Sharma, superseding an experienced Harbhajan Singh. When he took over the side in all formats, he was very clear that he wanted younger legs on the field and drew the finish line for Sourav Ganguly’s and Rahul Dravid’s limited-overs careers. In the 2011 World Cup, he promoted himself up the order after having an unimpressive tournament until that point — he then proceeded to write his name in history books by playing the winning shot that won India the World Cup after 28 years. He announced his retirement from Test cricket with absolutely no warning and walked away from it with no fuss. In 2016, he stepped down as captain in ODIs and T20s, again with little spectacle, handing over the reins to Virat Kohli.

He never seemed to be someone desperate to hold on to his place, seeking one last shot at glory. Had India won the 2019 World Cup, would Dhoni have been hoisted on his shoulders and then announced his retirement in a blaze of glory? Maybe. But that was not to be.

If anything, his situation shows us how big a decision retirement is, even for someone as unflappable as Dhoni. It reminds me of the time Sachin Tendulkar was nearing his retirement but refused to let go until he got his 100th 100. Like Sachin, was Dhoni too looking for one last shot at glory against all odds by having a stellar IPL, and then being chosen for the T20 World Cup? After all, the 2019 IPL was quite rewarding.

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MS Dhoni was seen spitting blood after sucking on his injured thumb while batting vs England, World Cup 2019.

Reuters Photo

But Dhoni playing in the 2020 T20 World Cup was always a longshot. He is fit but not young, and no longer the match-winning force he once was. Coach Ravi Shastri fueled discussions when he said Dhoni playing in the World Cup depends on the kind of IPL he has. But it looks like the BCCI has made its choice and is pushing MSD to make his.

All of us want our heroes to go out in a blaze of glory, under the arc lights, with tears of happiness and acceptance mixing with each other. But the fairytale ending is just that, a fairytale. The image of Dhoni running with all he has to reach the crease in the semi-final against New Zealand isn’t a fitting final image for one of India’s best cricketers, but that is what we might have to settle for.

MS Dhoni always seemed to have another trick up his sleeve, another run to steal, a lightning-fast stumping that took everyone by surprise. But not all endings are heroic. The last few months seemed like a slow separation, his way of letting his fans get used to the Indian cricket team without him. And even if the sun has set on his stellar career, it won’t set on his legend, ever.

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