Dhoni still commands immense respect

MS Dhoni

There are potentially two matches left for Mahendra Singh Dhoni -- who in all probability will call it quits -- in India colours as the nation prepares for a send-off of one of its favourite sporting stars.

In a remarkable career that began from a humble background, Dhoni, who turned 38 on Sunday, has achieved much more than any Indian captain has across formats. The man responsible for shaping the careers of many of the present superstars, Dhoni commands love, loyalty and respect in the dressing room in equal measure. From skipper Virat Kohli to his understudy Rishabh Pant, they all still value his advice and seek his guidance.

He has been under criticism for his slow batting, but insofar as the team is concerned, he remains one of their most important players. It won’t be the same for the Indian team once Dhoni leaves that dressing room, and it will leave a huge void in the team. A World Cup title will be the most appropriate parting gift for the veteran player.  

“I didn't prepare that one in 2011 so I'm certainly not going to write anything down,” said Kohli when reminded about his famous line for Sachin Tendulkar after the 2011 WC victory and asked what plans he has for Dhoni. “But yeah, I'm sure everyone, if you asked them about him, they have special things to say. And especially for us who started our careers under him. For us that doesn't change. The respect will always be there because of the opportunities that he gave us and the faith that he showed in us and the way he's handled the whole team in transition over so many years.

“And now we are the ones who are taking Indian cricket forward. We understand the importance of that process. A lot has been in focus otherwise (in recent days), but look, when a person has done so much for the team you have to appreciate and acknowledge what he's done for Indian cricket and how he's handled Indian cricket and taken the respect for Indian cricket so high all over the world,” he said.

Despite all the talk about his batting and wicketkeeping, Kohli said, Dhoni was in in his usual happy space.

“He's always been in a very happy, jovial mood all the time whenever we see him and yesterday again was a very happy moment for him, for the whole team, to see a smile on his face and he's in a very comfortable, very happy space at the moment. I'm not thinking of anything apart from that because the main focus right now is to do what we need to do tomorrow and then on to another one hopefully and yeah, just have a good World Cup.”

It can be tough for anyone to play just as another cricketer in a team that he has led for so long and with some authority. To remain unaffected by this transition and give that space to the new captain to run the team in the way he wants is crucial. Kohli singled out this trait of Dhoni.    

“From the respect point of view for MS, it's always going to be sky-high, especially in my eyes, because I know how difficult it can be to make a transition from being captain. To be just playing as a player after being captain for so many years and still not being too assertive or too pushy in anything. He gives you space to make your own decisions and to actually discover yourself, so I think that's been his biggest quality.

“At the same time, if I go ask him anything, he's there giving me advice and he's never shying away from that. So yeah, he's been outstanding and I'm delighted that I have been able to play for so many years alongside him,” Kohli emphasised.  

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