MS Dhoni hasn’t left the building

India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni plays a shot during the second one day international (ODI) cricket match between India and South Africa at The Holkar Cricket Stadium at Indore on October 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ INDRANIL MUKHERJEE ----IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE--- (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

1st ODI

11 off 6. In Dhoni land it is like 6 off 11. No sweat. One heave over mid-off and the game is sealed. How about a helicopter shot to get the crowd ballistic?

Kagsigo Rabada takes his mark to bowl the last over. It is his sixth ODI. It is Dhoni’s 266th ODI.

Dhoni has done it before, against better bowlers, against better oppositions. He has done it when the stakes were much higher.

A little over 4 years back, he was struggling for form right through the world cup. On the day of the final, chasing Sri Lanka’s 275 in a Wankhede that was coming apart at its seams, the side found itself in more than a spot of bother with Sehwag and Tendulkar back in the dressing room. He strapped his pads and came out to face an exuberant Sri Lanka who had begun to sniff victory, however distant. His 91 not out overshadowed even Gautam Gambhir’s 97. The most viewed shot of the decade will be the six his hoisted off long on that lifted the 28 year old curse and sent the happiness index of the country soaring.

Dhoni announced his arrival with a swashbuckling innings against Pakistan. That was a younger Dhoni, his mane flowing and playing fearlessly. When captaincy was thrust on him, his game didn’t alter much.

At some point, he assumed the role of finisher. Like Philipe Petite in Man on a Wire, he walked where few wanted to. A situation where the runs outnumbered the balls and the best bowler that had been saved for last came thundering in. The field is spread. If he was lucky, the non-striker was someone who could put bat to ball.

Remember the Celkon cup where he stole the match from right under Sri Lanka’s nose by slamming 15 runs in 5 balls, his partner being Ishant Sharma? Now Sharma can do many things but he the last person you want on strike with a match in the balance.

The Dhoni we are seeing now is not the same Dhoni we are used to. After shedding the baggage of test cricket, he has devoted all of his energies to the shorter formats. India’s world cup defense exceeded people’s expectations until they met the ultimate champions in a one-sided semi final. Dhoni’s next goal is the t20 world cup that will be played at home.

So when Dhoni charged Rabada and the ball found his top edge to give the bowler an easy catch, what we term lovingly a ‘ladoo’, it seemed he had written his own obituary. The finisher was finished the tabloids screamed. His place in the team couldn’t be taken for granted they thundered.

Maybe it is easier in life to be mediocre and not set standards so that when you fail, they don’t tear you down. Maybe it is easier to tiptoe through life, blaming everything on the weather, a bad boss and politics.

Then you have people like Dhoni who are judged by an almost cruel standard. In the world cup semi-final against Australia when the hopes of a victory were ebbing by the second, people didn’t leave their seats because Dhoni was still there. That’s a lot of hope to carry around on one’s shoulder.

Maybe right now his critics can’t speak because they are so busy following a new diet called eating your words.

Thank you MS Dhoni. We have been waiting for you.

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