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IPL-2021: The Last Of The MSD?
The MSD of Indian and world cricket has been a phenomenon in terms of aggression yet simple approach, skillful captaincy in all three formats of the game, unorthodox right-hand batsman with raw yet powerful hitting, one of the best examples in wicket-keeping in world cricket, one of the fastest runners between the wickets and always smiling and composed in the field. MSD simplified means the one and the only-Mahendra Singh Dhoni. On October 15, 2021 in the IPL-2021(Indian Premiere League-season 2021) Final in Dubai which was MSD’s 300th match Dhoni led his franchise CSK (Chennai Super Kings), since 2008, to its 4th Champion title defeating KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders) convincingly by 27 runs. The earlier title wins under Dhoni’s captaincy were in 2010, 2011 and 2018.
There have been rumors floating around in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) about the 40-year-old star cricketer’s retirement after IPL-2021 which seems realistic now that he has played the 300th match and also winning the title, creating a moment of glory in leaving. However, the unpredictable, as far as retirement is concerned, cricketer has denied all rumors and made it clear that if not as the captain of CSK he’d continue to be available as a player. After the final encounter of the IPL-2021 MS Dhoni also said that with two new teams coming for the auctions for IPL-2022 the best of interests for CSK would naturally be kept in mind and the Indian cricket board BCCI would be the final authority to decide on his position or place in the team. If he retires indeed then we have seen the last of the MSD here in Dubai, and unfortunately we missed seeing him bat as it was not necessary for him and there was also the rare drop of a catch behind by someone who is never known for such lapses. But fortunately, we had again seen him in the role of a ‘finisher’ in the Qualifier-1 where he hit the required 13 runs in the last over to take CSK straight into the Final, defeating DC (Delhi Capitals), the top team in the points table.
As for the IPL-2021 Final Dhoni’s CSK almost sealed the encounter when its top four batsmen took the winds out of KKR-the batting explosion led by opener Faf du Plessis with 86 runs off just 59 balls and significant contributions by opener Rituraj Gaikwad, Robin Uthappa and Moeen Ali-posted a mammoth total of 192 runs on the board. KKR, the team that performed brilliantly in the UAE leg of the tournament, basically consists of 5 or 6 contributing players-the two consistent openers of Shubman Gill and Venkatesh Iyer, the three spinners of Narine, Chakravarthy and Shakib (a late addition in the absence of the unpredictable Andre Russel), and pacer Mavi, at times joined by batsman Rana. All others, unfortunately, were more of liabilities than assets including most prominently the KKR captain Eoin Morgan and wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik-their glaring inability to lead the team when required. In the Final too, despite an opening partnership of 91 runs in good time, the following batsmen failed miserably including Narine on whom the team depends as a batsman too. Also, the point to be mentioned here is that KKR played most of their matches in the relatively sluggish pitches of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, and won mostly low scoring matches, their trio of spinners and Mavi restricting the oppositions to less than 150 most often. The high-scoring match on an easy pitch the CSK total score was literally beyond KKR standards.
Coming back to the MSD phenomenon, we still remember him as the long-haired young boy from a small town Ranch in Bihar, running enthusiastically around the field-hitting the ball very hard, keeping the wickets and even bowling on rare occasions. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was selected for Team India in 2004 for the shorter format (ODI) and made his Test debut the next year. In 2007 he took over captaincy from Rahul Dravid in the ODI format and became the Test captain too in 2008 taking over from Anil Kumble. The disastrous result in the ICC Cricket World Cup-2007 when India was eliminated at the league stage was a huge setback for Dhoni; but in the same year in the inaugural ICC Cricket World Cup T20, named as its captain too, Dhoni led the team to his first ICC World Cup defeating Pakistan in the Final. MSD played 90 Tests amassing nearly 5000 runs with a healthy average of 38, 6 centuries, a double century (the highest of his career at 224) and 33 fifties. In 2013 under his captaincy India became the first team in 40 years to have whitewashed Australia 4-0 in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy played in India. During his tenure India occupied the top spot in the ICC Test rankings for the first time. He brought aggression into the team, paradigm shifting the team’s usual ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’ to ‘snatching victory from the jaws of defeat’.
In the ODI format MSD played 350 matches and amassed more than 10000 glorious runs, the fourth Indian to do so, with 10 centuries, 73 half-centuries and an amazing average of 50.53 (his highest and a memorable score of 183 against Sri Lanka in 2005). He also became the first wicket-keeper in the world to complete the 100th stumpings. MSD raced to his second ICC World Cup by winning the ICC Cricket World Cup-2011 in India by holding the fort in the Final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai forming a winning partnership with Yuvraj Singh, and the ecstasy that followed that we cannot ever forget. His third ICC World Cup came in 2013 when India won the ICC Champions Trophy -2013 played in England, first started by the ICC as a knockout tournament and called the Mini World Cup, post-2017 it got replaced the T20 World Cup), defeating the hosts in the Final that got reduced to 20 overs each due to rains. So, MSD became the only Indian captain to win all the ICC World Cups, apart from two Asia Cup victories. In the T20I format, Dhoni played 98 matches amassing 1612 runs with a healthy average of 37 and two half-centuries.
The MSD phenomenon has been getting tremendous praise both nationally and internationally by famous cricketers. He has earned the title of ‘Captain Cool’ for his simplicity and easy manners on the field, and is also known for his ‘helicopter shot’ signifying his raw hitting power and unorthodox approach to the game. He initially started as a lower order batsman, but was promoted to the top order thanks to his prowess and utility, and then settled more or less as a middle-order batsman. He has been given the honor of figuring in the ICC World Test IX 3 times as captain, a record 8 times in the ICC World ODI IX of which 5 times as captain of the team along with ICC ODI Player of the Year in 2008 and in 2009. In India, the modest boy from Ranchi won Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2007, Indian civil honors Padmashri in 2009 and Padma Bhushan in 2018.
The MSD phenomenon has not been without its share of ups and downs, criticisms, controversy and unpredictable behavior. He suddenly laid down his captaincy from the ODI format ahead of a series in 2017 making himself still available as a player. More dramatically, he announced his retirement from Test cricket amidst a Test Series in Australia in 2014-15 leaving it all to Virat Kohli to handle. He retired from all formats of international cricket on 15th August, 2020, perhaps prompted by his famous run-out against New Zealand in the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 thus failing to ‘finish’ the match, and the aftermath of his non-selection for the international matches by the BCCI. Dhoni had also been criticized by his moves to oust the stalwarts of Team India one by one bringing in new blood, of course seemingly favoring some players, and of late for his inability to accelerate in batting. In the aftermath of the World Cup-2007 disaster for India Dhoni’s Ranchi residence was vandalized by perhaps disappointed fans. His IPL franchise CSK was involved in a bitter match-fixing controversy that started in 2013 for which the franchise was banned for two years in 2015, and Dhoni was purchased by Pune for one year after that. In 2018 he came back to lead CSK again and won the third Championship title that year.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni remains in UAE for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup T20-2021 where he will play his role as a ‘mentor’ or ‘mental conditioner’ for Team India. No one could be better positioned for this role. He has been known to be very close to India captain Virat Kohli (who has recently announced his stepping-down as captain from the T20 format after the World Cup), and the latter gained immensely as captain from Dhoni’s guidance on the field as MSD was still playing for the team in the shorter formats. In actuality, nobody would ever tire of watching the MSD phenomenon in some kind of a role, playing on the field or otherwise. Such is this player of cricket who has continuously been showered love and affection throughout India and elsewhere.
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