On Wednesday, the 4th of January 2017, Chelsea, my favourite football club, lost to Tottenham and their 13 game unbeaten streak came to an end. While this is bound to make any Chelsea fan sad, I found myself distracted by another huge news emerging from my own country where, after captaining the team for 9 years, MS Dhoni had decided to quit as the Indian team captain in the ODI and T20 format. The entire country was stunned by this unexpected news especially when the series against England is to begin in a couple of weeks. But the real question is – Dhoni just quit his captaincy. He didn’t retire yet and can still continue playing. Then why is the entire country going crazy over this news? Why am I so depressed about this?
The first major tournament I remember watching was the 2003 World Cup in which Australia beat India in the finals. I didn’t even understand the game well enough then, but I stayed up the entire night, crying. The next day, news channels were pointing their fingers at Ganguly’s decision at the toss as one of the reasons for loss and criticisms flowed in. I couldn’t quite understand why someone would do that. Wasn’t reaching a major final a big achievement in itself? I realised that India is a very passionate (and ruthless) country. Win something, and they will build temples for you. Lose, and they won’t hesitate to break those same temples and then head over to break your house as well. There was no room for being second best. The Indian media channels made the captain a national scapegoat and would blame him for every single mistake the team made. Ganguly brought together a new team that was ready to challenge Australia after narrowly missing out in 2003. But controversies in the coming years (the Ganguly Chappel one) saw to his sacking from the captaincy role. In 2007, the Indian team, that took years to build and shape up, was sent crashing into the ground after the group stage exit. Again, fingers were pointed at the captain, Dravid, and other senior players for failing the country. Perhaps, if it wasn’t for this internal politics and issues raised by the media, the team would have performed better. The captain’s role was a hot seat that none of the senior players were ready to handle because of the pressure it brought along with it. Then came the decision to hand the team’s captaincy to MS Dhoni.
9 years, a lots of stumps and several trophies later, he is one of India’s most successful captain across all formats. But there’s a lot more that he has brought to the sport in India than just trophies. His aura of calmness and stability has transferred to the team as a whole. He has ensured that the pressure of the Indian media never reached his players by taking it all on himself and this allowed them to play their game better. He never took credit for his team’s success too. You will always see him standing in the background and smiling when his team celebrate with the trophies that they’ve won. When he went on to play the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, without meeting his newborn daughter, he showed fans what all sacrifices players make for the country. He has won every major trophy there is and even guided his team to the top of the Test rankings. During his time, fans have learnt to appreciate and respect the team and not to just go along with what the mainstream media say.
It was not like the road was without any obstacles. Criticisms were aplenty. ‘Dhoni only favours CSK players’. Look at what Vijay, Ashwin and Jadeja have done for the country over the past year. ‘Dhoni is the reason for the axing of senior players’. Dhoni can voice his opinions, but there also exists a selectors board whose main role is to choose the best team. ‘He is selfish and wants to finish the match and get all the glory’. Since when was wanting to win a match a wrong thing? There were a few humiliating defeats, especially the ODI series loss to noisy neighbours, Bangladesh. There were numerous calls for sacking him from the captaincy role. But the team backed the captain and order was ensured.
Dhoni will always be my most favourite cricket player. Not because of his talent. I’m pretty sure a country like India will keep producing talents that are better than him. But there’s a lot that one can learn from the man who was once a ticket collector at the Kharagpur railway station. He showed what a good leader can do for his team and has set a blueprint for future captains to follow. Some say that most of Dhoni’s fans are CSK supporters, although I know quite a few people who chose to support the team only because it had Dhoni in it. A tweet that has gone up after his announcement accurately sums up what Dhoni is all about.
Link to above tweet
India went into the 2015 World Cup as defending Champions. Despite a brilliant run, they were beaten in the semi-finals by the eventual champions, Australia. Times Now came up with the hashtag ‘#ShamedInSydney’ to mock the Indian campaign. I was afraid that this was going to be a repeat of 2003. But, the Indian fans took the players’ side and blasted the channel’s attitude towards our nation’s ‘Heroes’. The amount of respect that the team got from all over the country is perhaps the greatest achievement of Dhoni’s era. It will be weird to not see him at the toss and post match presentations anymore. Kohli is an excellent leader and will definitely make the country proud. But, Dhoni is the one who inspired a generation of youth to better leaders. He still has a big role to play in the team and he will continue to offer his best. Not because ‘he is a national servant doing his national duty’, but because the future of Indian cricket needs him to. Not many captains get the chance to quit on their own terms and, after 9 fantastic years, it is nothing less than what Captain Cool deserves.
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