When MS Dhoni burst on the international scene in 2004 to debut against Bangladesh, he was force of nature. He was young, raw, and uninhibited. His fearless stroke play made him darling of the nation and won applauds from the President of Pakistan. He was efficient behind stumps and was blessed with a no fear, no non-sense attitude. He didn’t speak much, and that helped.
Much has changed since that day in December 2004. Dhoni’s ability to impose his will on the outcome of the game was second only to the legendary Shane Warne. Both seemed to have had an uncanny ability to influence the result of the game in the most astonishing ways. Though different as chalk and cheese in their styles of play and the personalities, nobody can deny that both seem to have had abilities that could dumbfound opponents and make the critics eat their words.
Dhoni however hasn’t just been the player sans pareil. He is a leader of the men, a captain bestowed with responsibilities to lead India in all three formats of the game. Since taking over the ODI captaincy of India in 2007, Dhoni has gone on to rewrite the record books and win everything that came his way. The evolution of game probably has been faster between 2004 and 2015 than the two centuries preceding it. In this decade of change, Dhoni became the first captain to win all three ICC limited-overs trophies and also helped India to briefly rise up to the number one in test rankings in 2009.
Dhoni’s achievements are almost Napoleon. By the age of 31, Napoleon had established himself as the supreme leader, by the force of his sheer will, vision, and ability to go where no man has gone before. His achievements as a military leader, helped France become a global super power, much like team India did when Dhoni was in command.
Time and tide they say stop for no one. All the pressure of captaining in India all three formats seem to have taken toll on Dhoni. While being busy managing his resources, hiding the weaknesses of his lesser capable team mates, Dhoni the master strategist was losing connect with Dhoni the destructive batsman. The man whose self-belief was enough to sow the seeds of doubts in the minds of shrewdest of bowlers now looks a pale shadow of his former self. In the eye of his achievements, his decline has been both sad and spectacular. It all seems to have happened before one could bat an eye lid.
Much like the French invasion of Russia in 1812 began a turning point in Napoleon’s fortunes, the world cup win in 2011 seem to have started the decline for Dhoni the captain. The batting failures of the team in Tests abroad prompted Dhoni to adopt a safety first approach to his batting technique. The force of nature, free and uninhibited, now looks tame and caged, trapping the fortunes of Dhoni the conqueror in the process. His failures as a captain started clouding his judgment and famed ability to stay calm under pressure started to come under scanner too.
But does it mean that all is lost? Is there no hope for Dhoni the supreme commander?
Make no mistake; just a year after being exiled to the island of Elba, Napoleon broke free to become powerful again. At 34, Dhoni is young (and good) enough to make one last dash to shake up his current blues. He has given up on the format that had affected his natural style of play and leadership. This defeat against Bangladesh might just reignite that force of nature to give Dhoni’s career a much needed second wind. There is enough pride hidden under that ruffled exterior that would be bubbling to come out and explode once more.
Even if the Dhoni of yore is behind us, as a player Dhoni has enough experience to grit it out much in the same way that Steve Waugh could. Dhoni left the test scene abruptly, surely when he decides the time is to go from other formats, he will go. You won’t have time to speculate. Just like the batsmen who were found out of their crease by an inch and had their bails crashed within a fraction of a second.
Count Dhoni out at your own peril.