By Sarwar Alam
It’s an image ingrained in the fabric of Indian cricket, the iconic moment when MS Dhoni launched the mammoth six to clinch India the World Cup in 2011 and sent the entire nation into delirium.
The image has been immortalised in posters, books, advertising campaigns and even a smash-hit Bollywood movie.
However, it’s easy to get caught up in that last hit and forget about just what an incredible innings Dhoni played in the final against Sri Lanka.
India were struggling on 32/2, with the swashbuckling Virender Sehwag and the great Sachin Tendulkar both out inside the first seven overs. And with India on 114/3 – the match still in the balance, Dhoni promoted himself up the order, above Yuvraj Singh, and the skipper took all the pressure on his shoulders.
In his two hours and eight minutes at the crease, a serene Dhoni took control of the situation, hitting 91 not out as India ended-up cruising to their target of 275.
It’s the calmness he showcased in that innings that was the secret to making him India’s greatest ever captain. Aside from the 2011 World Cup, the Bihar native led his country to success in the 2007 T20 World Cup, the 2013 Champions Trophy and under his leadership, India, for the first time ever, reached number one in the world Test rankings and stayed there for 18 months.
So it’s no surprise then that Dhoni is still making headlines on a daily basis – even though he hasn’t lifted a cricket bat in almost a year. The will he or won’t he make a comeback has been on the lips of fans and pundits alike ever since the 38-year-old took a self-imposed sabbatical after the World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand last year.
“Dhoni is the greatest finisher of all time that the cricketing world has ever produced,” former Australian star Michael Hussey told ESPNcricinfo.
“Dhoni can keep his cool and make the opposition captain blink first. Dhoni also has unbelievable power. He knows that when he needs to clear the ropes he can do it. He has that kind of self-belief. Honestly, I didn’t have that kind of belief in myself.”
It’s arguably this unique quality, being a a ‘finisher’ that makes Dhoni still such a valuable asset, even though he will be 39-years-old by the time the next major international tournament comes round – the T20 World Cup, scheduled to played in Australia in October.
India have failed to replace Dhoni in the pivotal role of finishing of the innings in the crucial last 10-15 overs of an ODI or last five overs of a T20 match. KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant and others have tried but have so far failed to grasp their chance.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain warned India not to give up on Dhoni, whom he describes as “a once in a generation cricketer”.
“What I have seen of Dhoni, I still think he has a huge amount to offer to Indian cricket,” Hussain told Indian broadcaster Star Sports.
“Yes, there have been one or two occasions where he has got it wrong in run chases, like that World Cup game against England. But in general, Dhoni is still a really good talent.”
Hussain added: “Don’t push Dhoni into retirement too early. Once Dhoni is gone, there is no getting him back. There are some legends of the game, appreciate them while they are still around.
“I do believe that certain individuals should not just retire into the sunset without some kind of farewell.
“In the end only Dhoni knows his mental state, in the end selectors select and players turn up when asked to,” he added.
Having retired from Test cricket in 2014 Dhoni’s schedule has been limited to ODIs and T20s for India and leading Chennai Super Kings in the IPL.
But with this year’s IPL indefinitely postponed, his World Cup winning teammate Gautam Gambhir thinks that could spell the end of Dhoni’s international career.
“If the IPL does not happen this year, then it will become very difficult for MS Dhoni to make a comeback. On what basis can he be selected since he’s not been playing for the last one or one and a half year,” Gambhir said on Star Sports show Cricket Connected.
The 38-year-old Gambhir picked KL Rahul, who has been keeping in ODIs, as an “apt replacement” for Dhoni.
“Obviously his (Rahul’s) keeping is not as good as Dhoni’s, but if you are looking at T20 cricket, Rahul’s a utility player, can keep and bat at No. 3 or 4. If the IPL does not happen, then Dhoni’s chances for a comeback look dim.
“Ultimately, you are representing India, so whoever dishes out the best performance and can win the match for India should play for the team,” added Gambhir.
Former India batsman VVS Laxman feels that Dhoni can at the very least continue playing in the IPL.
“Not only this IPL, he (Dhoni) will probably play in the next couple of IPLs, and then we will take a call about his future as a cricketer,” Laxman said.
Laxman, a veteran of 134 Tests, added that India’s new selection committee, chaired by former spinner Sunil Joshi, will have to discuss Dhoni’s future with him.
“Dhoni will be very clear, as far as his plans are concerned, I’m sure he must have communicated that with (captain) Virat Kohli, (coach) Ravi Shastri immediately after the 2019 World Cup in England,” said Laxman.
“The new selection committee will have to sit down with MS Dhoni and understand his future, as far as Indian cricket is concerned. But MS Dhoni will continue to play for CSK and do well for CSK.”
Through all the rumblings about his future, Dhoni has continued to keep a stoic silence. And now with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down any form of cricket for the forceeable future, he seems content spending time with his wife and young daughter at his sprawling 7-acre farmhouse. But it would be a brave man to say for certain that we will never see him pull on the India jersey again.
Legendary all-rounder Kapil Dev believes Dhoni will be a big miss when he does decide to call-it-a-day.
“He has served the country so well, for so many years. One day, he has to retire. It will be sooner rather than later. He has to go at some time. He is not playing matches. So, I don’t know when he is going to come out and say he has had enough. It will be our loss whenever he retires,” the 61-year-old said.