Dhoni’s Swan Song in the Test Arena: Three Essays

Sai Prasad Mohapatra … responding to the Cricketique Editor’s request

dhoni 33I. Dhoni’s Last Test Innings

The fall of Pujara brought Mahendra Singh Dhoni to the crease. We were completely unaware of the retirement announcement to follow later in the day, Dhoni walked in while India were 5/141. Still 19 more overs to see off and Dhoni had Rahane for company. Little did Rahane his partner know that he was spending his last few minutes with his captain on the crease. Johnson continued with his bowling around the wicket, and kept all off his 53rd over run less, Dhoni played out the first over of his last Test innings a maiden. 12 deliveries later, Ashwin joined Dhoni at the crease when Rahane departed to a pull shot — leaving the team in dire strait. The fear of late order collapses pretty much hung around with Dhoni and Ashwin seemingly the last hope of survival.

Dhoni perhaps knew at a deeper level that no matter how small the resistant may be, his last knock will have an imprint of fortitude. He left some deliveries, he took some deliveries on his bat, he smashed some deliveries when needed. It was to be the 65th over that Shane Watson bowled, Dhoni played out first two deliveries, pick up two runs from the third, played the remain the remaining three balls quietly to end his career at 24 not out, and his Test aggregate halting at 4876.

Steve Smith shook hands with him an over later both agreeing to draw the match and walked back. Dhoni returned to the pavilion smiling, shaking hands with his team mates and Australian players along the way. Mark Nicholas finished the post match presentation in which he appeared for seven minutes. Not a single word spoken there, not a hint dropped either.

DHONI last rtest -getty Dhoni returned to the dressing room, called his teammates and the support staff, the team went into a huddle like any other team huddle, he made a short emotional speech. According to sources in the team management, Dhoni spoke in such a parting tone that made the atmosphere very emotional.

“It had been a long innings, a cherished one. Extremely proud to have led India and led you all. Time has come to go, and thanks for your support,” Dhoni said to his team-mates which was followed by hugs from his teammates and pats came from all the support staff.

“It was very moving, very touching. A lion has left the dressing room,” Ravi Shastri told HT. “A man with a heart of gold, a lion hearted cricketer has left,” said Arshad Ayub, team manager No regret, no trace of extreme emotion, Dhoni for the next few minutes spend chatting  up with his team mates before he got ready to address the press conference.

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II.  Dhoni knew his timeline

If ever anyone is adept at masking the feelings and letting his exterior camouflage the internal workings of his emotions, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s last appearance as Test captain was one such act. Having already spoken to his team mates about his decision to quit Test cricket following which he spoke to N Srinivasan over the phone informing him about his decision right before the press conference, Dhoni was undergoing a torrent of emotions and sharing his decisions with whom it matters. His press conference simply belied everything that he had just gone through. His charm was unaffected by his decision, his wisecrack retained as usual, he spoke about his future moves how to use KL Rahul and Suresh Raina in future matches. He refused to give an answer that may ruffle the Australian dressing room over the timing of the declaration. He spoke about the need of an all rounder, he corrected a journalist from what he said as loose shot from rash shot. He spoke about his role to douse the fire in the field over heated sledging. And, his last answer had the entire press room in split.

When a journalist likened India’s tail-enders to Doberman’s tail and Australia’s tail to Hanuman (the monkey god), Dhoni too joined the fun in giving an answer that round off the long day with a peel of laughter.

“Even PETA has said that cosmetically you cannot remove the tail(doberman’s). It has been a big problem for us because we don’t have a genuine all rounder. We have tried playing six batsmen and five bowlers and the tail grows even longer then like a cow’s tail. So it is very difficult, the right combination whatever good teams have their lower 3-4 batsmen contribute for sure. Its not like they score 100 runs in every innings, but at crucial times no.8 scores or no.9 scores. We are lacking in that sense. Shami and Umesh can play shots but they cant do it every time. Ishant can bat but can not hit out so we have a problem because of which we cannot play with five bowlers. Hopefully if we get a good all-rounder we can solve this problem of tail,” said Dhoni cheekily before signing off, also reminded “please translate it in English for the benefit of our Australian friends. A humour that in the hind sight can be seen as a captain who left smiling and left everyone smiling.

The decision to quit Test cricket, however, it is very reliably learnt from some of his close friends that the tour of Australia was to be his last tour as Test captain. The original idea of announcing his retirement is in fact planned for the Sydney Test. But given the way the series has taken course, it was a spontaneous decision from Dhoni to announce his retirement when the series is already lost. Perhaps, he would not have waited for the occasion when the Border-Gavaskar trophy is given out to Australia. It is also learnt from the sources close to him that his time with the Indian team is limited regardless of India’s campaign— good or bad— Dhoni will take a call on his international ODI career after the World Cup. Dhoni in spite of his retirement announcement has chosen to stay with the team in Australia till India starts its campaign in the Tri-series to follow succeeded by the ICC world cup.

Dhoni had a choice of picking a bigger occasion to call it quit, but for someone who hates limelight, who puts his team first, who never played for his statistics, a quieter departure was just about right way to say what noises he created in world cricket through his bat, through his attitude and through his leadership.

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III. Dhoni’s Unusual Moment of Silence 

Its been only two days Mahendra Singh Dhoni has announced his retirement from Test cricket, but for some of team mates the whole experience of Dhoni suddenly announcing his retirement hasn’t sunk in yet. recounting the entire afternoon just before Dhoni stepped into bat, a team member sensed an unusual demeanour from Dhoni closer to the last session of the game.

“He was unusually silent at that time just before the fall of 2nd wicket, we have never seen him so quiet and self occupied before. He sat there quietly, didn’t speak to anyone and was lost in thought. Though we were not at all aware of his decision but that was something really exceptional,” said the member of the team.

Another instance at which the team members were still quizzical about why Dhoni took out a stump at the moment the match petered into a draw and he soon started shaking hands with the Australian players.

“It was again something we could not digest the moment he took out a stump in a drawn match. In fact, one of our team mate joked as to how perhaps unmindfully out of habit, he may have taken away the stump,” said the team member.

But recounting the sequence of events that followed soon after Dhoni finished his post match presentation, he spoke to the BCCI officials immediately and consciously made a decision not to let the media know about his decision before telling his team mates.

“He wanted to tell us first. When he called us together, we thought may be he will discuss about the match normally which he doesn’t do. But the moment he said that he is quoting, honestly, none of us had any idea about it, and we were shocked and stunned. We really couldn’t make out what has happened. He for a change got really emotional,” said the team member.

Ever since his retirement announcement, Dhoni is keeping himself busy with the normal activities he often does during a tour— goes out eating outside, watched the new year celebrations in Sydney with his team mates at a place closer to the hotel, and at his usual talkative mood— except the fact that he skipped the Australian Prime Minister’s invitation for high tea on Thursday afternoon. Though the team management is still maintaining that he will remain with the team till the ODI Tri-series and would relax by visiting few places here and there, however, it is still not confirmed whether he would visit India briefly and join back the team again well before start of the Tri series.



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