In a few days, a transition of power will occur in another part of the world from a President with class to an egoist. In Indian cricket, the transition that occurred from one captain to the other was seamless and graceful.
A brief history of how the last few Indian ODI captains ended their tenures:
Mohammad Azharuddin – After leading India for the 3rd consecutive time in a World Cup in 1999, his name was dragged into the match fixing scandal and was sent into cricketing exile, never to return to the cricketing field again.
Sourav Ganguly – Resisted the ways of Greg Chappell and was stripped of captaincy and ejected from the side. Returned to the side as player but tensions simmered until Chappell was sacked in 2007.
Rahul Dravid – Suffered the ignominy of a first round exit in the 2007 World Cup. Led the side to a reasonably successful England series a few months later but returned and abruptly quit captaincy. Lost his side in the ODI squad a few months later.
MS Dhoni – Led India to two World Cups. Shocked the world by giving up test captaincy half-way through a series. Calmly announced that he would no longer captain the side in limited overs before the start of an ODI series against England.
By far one of the most peaceful resignations and transitions we have witnessed in Indian cricket.
Have you ever worked under two bosses? One says one thing, the other walks in and changes everything? Or have had to adjust to two different working styles? Or had a boss return after a vacation? With MS Dhoni stepping down from limited overs captaincy, it will now wholly be Virat Kohli’s team. The long home season that saw the board finally going beyond paying mere lip service to test cricket saw Dhoni being away from playing international cricket for months on end and getting back into the fray as player, leave alone captain, every time a limited overs series came up wouldn’t have been easy.
While his retirement from tests still remains some sort of a mystery and came without any warning, his stepping down from captaincy wasn’t greeted with as much shock and awe. His successor was ready, hungry and waiting in the wings.
Not many realise that 9 years is a long time to stay on top at the highest level as a captain. Sourav Ganguly had once commented on how the job of Indian captain was as tough, if not tougher, than that of the Prime Minister’s. While that maybe bit of a stretch, it underlines the fact that being captain in a country where everyone plays the role of selector, judge and jury has its breaking point.
MSD was handed the captaincy just before the inaugural World T20, a format and tournament the all powerful BCCI had sniggered about and sought to play down. He was made captain amidst the rumblings of a few other seniors. A father of one of them still goes off on childish rants about how his Southpaw son’s career was compromised by his ascension to captaincy. In two giddy weeks in September 2007, the team played a new brand of cricket and in the finals, pulled the rug from under the Pakistanis. T20 had become legitimate currency.
People consider MS Dhoni captain cool, the iceman who never thawed under pressure, but his batting is the exact opposite – explosive and at times belligerent. His ability to explode without getting carried away may have something to do with the year 2007. In March, the national team crashed out of the World Cup in the first round and a few people behaved like their life savings had evaporated with the loss and damaged the house that he was building in Ranchi.
Some six months later, after India edged Pakistan out in a last ball thriller to clinch the inaugural T20 World Cup, he was the man who could do no wrong. Someone whose house was attacked a mere six months back was hailed as the savior, the man who could do no wrong. In six months, he had seen from close quarters both ends of the totem pole of Indian cricket – stupidity and delirium.
How the tide had changed.
Modern day cricket calendars and pay checks mean it’s easy for cricketers to lose their hunger and motivation. Dhoni’s rise as captain coincided with the T20 oil rush that saw players from all corners of India becoming overnight stars under the IPL spotlight. Many faded away after their 15 seconds of fame. Why, Sreesanth gambled away his career like it were some sort of chip that he could win back in the next round. Keeping a good head on one’s shoulders is no easy task and Dhoni did just that. Unlike Virat Kohli who wears his emotions, his heart and heart break on his sleeve like a badge of honour, MS Dhoni was the stoic who seemed emotionless on the field at most times.
When Rahul Dravid unburdened himself of captaincy, he lost his side in the ODI squad a few months later. Being brought back into the limited overs scheme of things in the ill- fated 2011 tour of England was an act of desperation. Captaincy is an armour, something that nullifies a lot of other weak spots, which is why players are so reluctant to give it up. Dhoni’s captaincy was no bed of roses and another stern test rose in the aftermath of the ecstatic high of the 2011 World Cup. A jaded team got railroaded in England and repeated the feat in Australia a few months later. There were cries for Dhoni’s head and a selector even alleged that he was being protected by N Srinivasan, then the most powerful man in World Cricket.
Dhoni’s successors are already being groomed – Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul can both strike the ball a long way apart from performing their day job as keepers. No one can accuse him of having any protection from any of the powers that be anymore. Kohli wants him to bat up the order so that he can settle in and play with abandon again. His first day as citizen ended in a spectacular victory orchestrated by another Kohli masterclass, ably supported by Kedar Jadav who made his parents proud as they watched in the stands. Dhoni fell for six runs off six balls.
In all of their interviews, the Obamas speak about how no one really understands the weight of being the first family, the pressures, the adherence to protocol and being watched every minute of every day. They speak of how freeing it will be to wake up and not be burdened by the world’s problems. Few have paused to wonder what it would have been like for Dhoni, raised in small town Ranchi to climb to the dizzying heights that he did. Knowing Dhoni, we will probably never know. But unlike Obama, whose legacy stands at a precipice with his successor threatening to raze a lot of what he has done to the ground, Dhoni won’t suffer from the same fate. If anything, his successor will only take his legacy forward and hopefully cover more ground. That’s what successors are for, to build things up, not tear things down.
Legacy. That’s a word that is being bandied about with elan these days. What will MS Dhoni’s legacy be? How do you measure a captain, their personal records or what they helped a team do? Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar were great batsmen, but were they great captains? Dhoni led the team to two World Cup victories in a span of 4 years and a Champions Trophy victory in 2013. But beyond the cold comfort of numbers, he taught us that winning doesn’t mean that you had to lose your head and make a spectacle out of it. He opened the doors for a million other Dhonis in small towns who felt they were too far away to make it big.
There is one moment in time for which Dhoni will be remembered forever and ever. It was a cross section of everything that he stood for – finisher, the helicopter shot, big hitter, ability to soak up pressure and breaking new ground. It happened on April 2nd, 2011, when he pushed himself up the order after having a very ordinary tournament and played the innings of a lifetime.When the end was near, India required 4 0ff 11 balls to break a 28 year old curse. He smashed Nuwan Kulasekara for a six over long on with his customary helicopter shot and sent a country into raptures and gave a generation of millennials their first World Cup victory.
When a helicopter takes off, it slowly climbs and before long, it is seemingly kissing the sky.
When Dhoni played that shot, it felt like we were all kissing the sky.