Cricket in India has often been littered with stereotypes. Much akin to the great Indian rope trick, the game was reduced to the tropes of wristy batsmen and magical spinners. The sport was also blinkered to ancient geographical contours, often linked to royalty or the erstwhile British Presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Despite these boxy references, Kapil Dev emerged as an allrounder from Haryana and after him, it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s turn to stun the pundits. Hailing from Jharkhand, never previously known for its prowess in the willow game, Dhoni kept dismantling clichés as he built a splendid career that defied odds and technical benchmarks. As a batsman and wicket-keeper, aesthetics was not his strong point; but supreme athleticism, innate talent, a calm head and remarkable effectiveness in the crunch, made him an outstanding player. If there was a pattern to him, it was his unpredictability, be it the way he dealt with opposition bowlers, led India and timed his good-byes — from Tests in 2014 or limited-overs international cricket this Saturday. In the first instance, the BCCI issued a statement, and in the second, the former India captain picked Instagram as his medium. The initial reaction of overwhelming shock quickly became an acceptance of his quirks and then it sunk in — an era had ended in Indian cricket.
If Sourav Ganguly helped India tide past the match-fixing crisis of 2000, Dhoni took his side to greater heights and India became the number one team in Tests during 2009. But it was ODIs and Twenty20s that enhanced Dhoni’s aura. It was in the abridged versions that he was at his supreme best, flexing those helicopter sixes, effecting mind-boggling stumpings, being astute in his field placements, running between wickets seemingly at the speed of light and making his men believe that they could win big trophies. As a leader, he anchored India to three ICC titles — 2007 World Twenty20, 2011 World Cup and 2013 Champions Trophy. In the chase, he was often in the zone and until age caught up with him, it was a certainty that Dhoni will guide India home. There was an earthy intelligence about him and during his years as the skipper, at times he would sit cross-legged in the corridor and give a pep talk to the youngsters. He had his unique style and Indian cricket will be poorer without him, though at 39, the sands of time were running out for him. Dhoni the cricketer would still be in vogue as the Chennai Super Kings captain in the imminent Indian Premier League (IPL). In the coming years, those IPL days will dwindle but his permanence in the pantheon of cricketing greats is assured.