Thursday, January 8, 2015

Test Cricket Chronicles: MS Dhoni

"I don’t think anyone knew Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I don’t think anyone was meant to."
Harsha Bhogle was as right as rain in kicking around the Gordian knot.

Picture  Courtesy:
On December 30th, when Indians all across were not ready to throw over their fleeces, a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had stopped the ticking clock.

“The Indian Captain calls it a day!” my phone lit up, and face fell down. In a jiffy, I was leafing through the link that followed. MS Dhoni won’t be seen anymore in India whites. The Skipper retires from Test Cricket with immediate effect. A gob in the gullet made an immediate manifestation. The vision befogged with potbellied globules of brackish water.

And then it hit me! The much harrowed day had most assuredly egressed. His retirement was inevitable, everyone’s is. But who knew the game’s best finisher would call it a close in a manner so devil-may-care kind. With no farewell test match, no guard of honour, and no victory lap.

Life couldn’t have been grody for an eighteen year old me. I was nauseating. From Rahul Sharad Dravid to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, catastrophe was all that I had got. And as luck would have it, while I was being all frugal, pinching pennies to make the scene on all five days of his omega test match, I didn’t get to descry even a single ball of what breezed in as his meanest test innings. In a life brimming with rotten luck, this was more than a stumbling block.

Much against the inexorable, a Lilliputian part of me was credulous of this being just another humbug. An incubus I’d be nudged from. Nothing however ensued. It was ex cathedra. The Caesar had tacitly left the alcazar. Symbolic of his demeanour.

A man, coxswain by his innate hunches, yet again had the final say, his way.

I won’t thumb a nose at myself by hassling over the timing. I am well sentient of the fact that he has a copious chunk of single-hearted scoffers, who aren’t done yet with stigmatizing him, and that they’ll leave no stone upturned in making another brouhaha about him “disowning the team, mid-series.” If you ask me, however, the timing couldn't have been more according to the Hoyle. With just a dead rubber left, there wasn’t much his presence would've done (since it didn’t for the past some years). With his pulloutt, MS Dhoni rolled the ball for Virat Kohli, equipping him with oodles of options, and ushered an opportunity to drill those, and be all that he himself couldn't. 
Yeah, aggressive is the word!

Now before I dash ahead, I’d beseech you to please not misconstrue this for a eulogy, or a testimonial. This is neither. The turmoil within me won’t let me pen down one. This is at most, a nugatory run at dwelling upon those innings which spell out Mahendra Singh Dhoni in cricket’s traditional format. Knocks that made him a one-of-his-kind brand of batsmanship, a moderately efficacious one. Knocks that made him the King. Of both, the 22 yards, conjointly with the four chambers of yours truly’s heart.

A career average of 38.09 may seem picayune when held against the likes of Adam Gilchrist, but coming from a number seven batsman, it isn’t as bad as it surfaces. Dhoni, the test batsman, had his thou-shalt-nots. Howbeit, he did give a sterling rundown of himself standing pat, sticking to his guns, every now and then, not shackling his natural instincts, and going for what he was enrapturedly known, the shots.

Below is the omnibus of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s five nonpareil knocks in India whites, the ones he shall always be reminisced for.

5. 76* vs England, Lord’s, 2007

This innings saw the metanoia of MS Dhoni – the closer to MS Dhoni – the salvager. With a target of 380 runs, a win was never on the cards for the Indian Team at the Mecca of Cricket. On the last day, the Indians were in a pickle with the scorecard reading – India: 145/5 with a hefty 80 overs remaining. That’s when with the battle scarred VVS Laxman, a new kid on the block walked down to grapple away the team from the very mandibles of drubbing. Fleshing out some 86 handy runs with Laxman, the latter part of the innings saw Dhoni riding out few categorically nerve racking moments with the tail.

This perhaps happens to be one of my most darling memories of a long haired MS Dhoni. The game ended in a draw and a while later the world saw Team India adducing a lionized 1-0 victory over the hosts.

4. 71 vs England, Old Trafford, 2014

When I look back, this inning came at the nightfall of Dhoni’s career. And Mahendra Singh Dhoni, couldn’t have been gustier!

Batting first on a green top, India had hit the rock bottom with 8/4. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad were hotfooting all through the visitors’ batting line up. Amidst the gore, MS Dhoni looked painstakingly all over the place. Front foot wasn’t coming forward enough. The top hand was a rattletrap. The entire body was laid bare while squaring off the short stuff. And the leaves were all unsettled. But there was an unmistakably unwavering mien even at the scourge that had befallen the side. An intrepidity to not get bogged down. And the √©lan to puff out, to alter good lengths into the over-pitched stuff.

When India joined both SA and Bangladesh to score the most ducks in a single test innings, their Skipper became the 11th test and 8th wicketkeeper batsman to notch 1,000 test runs against the Poms.

3. 99 vs England, Nagpur, 2012

England again! While jotting this down, I became cognizant of my finicky fetish to see MS Dhoni vasool-ing the do-guna lagaan from the Brits.

If I am ever asked to spin a fable I am inordinately close to, I’ll go on enunciating about this knock at Nagpur. The world saw a different, a highly cultivated, a more mellowed Indian captain take guard, redeeming his fan base, bolstering his tenability. This also happened to be his longest test knock (in terms of the deliveries faced). It was later bettered by his Herculean 224 at Chepauk.

India came into this game dawdling the series 1-2. And MS Dhoni, with his deputy, proffered hunky dory intransigence shepherding a gilt edged counterpunch under intense albatross. Each run that came off his bat was a swat on the face of those who believed his epitaph was written. When he stood shy of a well deserved century, courtesy: his English counterpart, even the cynics felt the goosebumps celebrating on them. Each one of us, who caught the drift of an unconventional Mahendra Singh Dhoni, won’t forget this meticulous knock even after several dips in the Bermuda triangle.

2. 148 vs Pakistan, Faisalabad, 2006

This came against the arch rivals, Pakistan. After having panned out his spunk in the shorter format, this knock semaphored the onset of Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the sets of ancestral cricket as well. 148 of just 153, against the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Asif, and Abdul Razzaq, at their home turf, in a word was – infallible!

This game makes to the list of my favourite test matches. Since it had Rahul Dravid too chiselling out a gumptious ton. But if I still remember it nine years down the line, it’s entirely because of a long haired general from Ranchi who had gloved the cricketing macrocosm by sheer surprise through his incongruous ways.

1.  224 vs Australia, Chennai, 2013           

This is easily his best ever, both in terms of the runs scored, and balls faced. And also, in terms of the unmasking of his mystique. A chivalric double hundred on a bone dry Chepauk which also was a spinner’s utopia, against the Kangaroos. This was the turnpike to Nirvana for every Mahendra Singh Dhoni fan. That also ripened into the highest individual innings by a Captain, having ameliorated Sachin’s 217 at Ahmedabad against NZ. 
What followed was a trail of record books being redrafted.

The double hundred was special. It had come in a day. Or maybe less than that. In two and a half sessions. Utterly.Beefing up anyone who barricaded his boulevard, this innings bespoke the repossession of MS Dhoni.  This was the Indian Skipper as none had seen him before, raw, grandiose, and red blooded.

If there’s one cricket wish I have to make, it’d be watching this knock from the Chepauk stands, perking up like a leviathan for the Midas of Indian Cricket.

Bonus Knock: 132 vs SA, Kolkata, 2010

This doesn’t make into the list of my top 5 MS Dhoni Test knocks, but it has a gravity of its own. The MS Dhoni led Indian team had been enthroned the test monarchs just weeks ago this series transpired. And the onus was on the patriarch himself, to live up to the splendor he had been endowed with. And sure did him!

Laxman’s love affair with the Edens lingered, but this time Kolkata had a new suitor. An elephantine 643/6, the highest team total ever against the Proteas. Credits : Laxmans’ 15th test ton, and 132 spirited runs by MS Dhoni. The obstreperous Eden crowd was held rubbernecker to some brilliant strokeplay, primarily, Dhoni coquetting with the mucked up SA bowlers.
India later went on to win the test by an innings and 57 runs, thereby furrowing this knock with inextirpable ink in every India Cricket fan’s mind.

WHAM! Huge nostalgia happening. In this hour and a half, I had consigned oblivion to all my ordeals. But life’s back to being a vanilla affair. Again!

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Former Test Captain, India

This will take a long time syncing in.

In a not so star studded career, I’ve had my moments of you.

A handful of them.

A few mnemonics I can spend my entire life gorging on.

No whimpers.

Just a pang of remorse.

If only you could’ve let me possessed you a bit more.

Mea culpa, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

I know I have failed you.

And you can stop fighting now. You have won, love! You have. Won!

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On a clinching note, it doesn’t matter if he has ever meant anything to you or not, I am sure you’ll give up on almost anything to hear “Sahi daal raha hai” one more time in the longest format of the game.

P.S. Those who were as ill-fated as me to not have got a load of MS Dhoni’s last test innings, here’s what you skipped. 

Swarna Bhatnagar for DieHard Cricket Fans

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