Skipper's silent walk into Test sunset

Cricket: Mounting away defeats and heavy workload take their toll on Dhoni

Skipper's silent walk into Test sunset

You would have been surprised if he had done it in any other way. Not the one who is given to theatrics, MS Dhoni, India’s most successful Test captain, called time on his career in the longer format without even waiting for a formal send-off that he so richly deserved, and he so easily could have had in Sydney, which will host the final Test.

Dhoni’s captaincy record in Tests, especially away from home, had admittedly taken a severe beating. His performance with the bat had been on the decline while his wicket-keeping, in conditions where the ball would seam and swing, had come under fire.

With Virat Kohli primed to take over, the reason of lack of an alternative option for his continuation at the helm didn’t hold any water either. Yet, the announcement, which came through a BCCI release shortly after he had steered India to safety in the third Test here on Tuesday with a dour unbeaten 24, had a shock value to it.
Moments before the release landed in the inbox, Dhoni had held a 16-minute post-match captain’s customary press conference where he hardly betrayed emotions of a man who had played his last Test for the country. Team Director Ravi Shastri paid rich tributes to Dhoni the Test captain.

 “He did not think about playing 100 Tests and celebrating that, he did not worry about what people might say,” Shastri pointed out. Dhoni was just 10 Tests short of joining the 100-Test club.

“He knew the time was right and the respect for him has just gone to another level within the team. For every cricketer, you know in your heart when your number is up. But it still takes a lot to walk away. To do what he did, the way he did it, all his career, it’s something people in all walks of life should reflect on. Someone once called me the champion of champions, but, to me, Dhoni is the real champion of champions. He came to cricket like a tiger and left like a lion,” he remarked.

Since the 2011 tour of England, India have won only one out of the 19 away Tests while losing 13 of them under Dhoni’s leadership. He has been under fire for presiding over team’s steady fall in standards while playing overseas.

While one might be tempted to say that Dhoni perhaps overstayed his welcome as a Test skipper, there’s no denying his role in the team’s rise as the No 1 Test side in the world.

With no more than effective skills behind the wickets and limited technique for a Test batsman, Dhoni remained remarkably unflappable even when he was surrounded by stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag. He did respect them but he was never overawed. 

Dhoni led for the first Test time in Kanpur in 2008 against South Africa with Anil Kumble unavailable through injury, before taking over the reins on a full-time basis later that year in October.

Dhoni won 27 of the 60 Tests he led India in and guided India to the No 1 Test ranking in 2009, a position they enjoyed until the tour of England in 2011 precisely from when Dhoni’s woes began. While home Test wins and good shows in shorter versions masked his losses in away Tests for a long while, India’s continued dismal performance on the road had begun to have its effect even on a level-headed person like Dhoni.

His adamant approach in the Push Gate involving James Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja during the English sojourn and India’s complaints about the sub-standard quality of practice pitches in Brisbane probably were a reflection of his growing frustration. He would have loved to end his Test career on a winning note but pulling off first draw in 17 Tests at the MCG was perhaps a fitting finale for him.        

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