I distinctly remember that match in Visakhapatnam. It was the second ODI of that series. In a video that went viral, I am seen hurling abuses at MS after an edge off Shahid Afridi‘s bat goes between Dhoni and Rahul Dravid at first slip. People assume it’s from the Vizag match, but that incident is from the fourth ODI in Ahmedabad. However, I must admit I am not proud of my behaviour.
I had been hit for six by Afridi off just the previous ball. There was the usual pressure of an India-Pakistan match. Suddenly, I created a chance and it was missed. I lost my cool. That wasn’t the only incident where a player has lost his cool in that manner. Both Dravid and Dhoni were fine with me after the game but that doesn’t justify my behaviour.
The video is still popular because it has Dhoni in it. It’s like that old picture of me presenting an award to Virat Kohli when he was a kid. The picture is famous because it has Kohli in it, not because of me. I know someday my kids will eventually watch that video clip and I’ll have to explain why I behaved that way!
Coming back to the Visakhapatnam knock, Dhoni’s innings is of great significance for Indian cricket. That innings got the team to believe that we too could have a prolific wicketkeeper-batsman. Dhoni didn’t have a great time in his initial matches. But when a confident man like him gets an opportunity and cashes in, then it’s hard to pull him back. Unwavering self-confidence is Dhoni’s strength. That innings was like he had tasted blood and he yearned for more. He hardly ever batted at No. 3 after that innings but he had made a statement that day. We lost all the remaining four matches in that series but we discovered Dhoni.
Dhoni wasn’t the best wicketkeeper around when he first came in. All those who played before him were really good. He was certainly not a Kiran More or a Nayan Mongia. So it’s not that he was miles ahead of his contemporaries as a wicketkeeper, but he made for a better package. His discipline, passion, composure and confidence made him different.
It was also the time the team wanted to relieve Dravid of wicketkeeping duties in One-day cricket. I remember we tried out Dinesh Karthik for a year after Parthiv Patel. DK was an exceptional talent with sound technique. But Dhoni did what DK and Parthiv couldn’t — make the most of his opportunities. Dhoni may not have been the best-looking batsman or a sound wicketkeeper but he certainly was the best wicketkeeper-batsman. He worked hard on his game, knew what work for him and grew as an impeccable wicketkeeper. I don’t see anyone coming close to the impact he has had as a wicketkeeper-batsman except for Rishabh Pant. Pant’s journey – though it is still early days – reminds me a lot of Dhoni.
I didn’t play for India between 2005 and 2009. A lot had changed in Indian cricket in that time. When I made a comeback, Dhoni was leading India. However, it was not that we were not on talking terms during that period. Dhoni had offered me Test cricket again in 2009, which I declined. Looking back, I do regret that decision a bit.
Make no mistake, Dhoni is one of the legendary captains of contemporary cricket. I don’t know much about the era of Mike Brearley, Imran Khan or Arjuna Ranatunga but whatever cricket I have seen over the last 22 years, Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly are the two defining captains in contemporary cricket. Dhoni knew how to get the work done and knew who could do it for him.
In the later stages of my career, I played with him at Chennai Super Kings. There have been suggestions recently that he is overly passionate when it comes to CSK. Yes, he is very passionate about CSK but that doesn’t mean he is any less passionate when playing for India. I would rather say that it’s a good thing that an IPL captain is so attached to his franchise. Dhoni and Rohit Sharma are the two best captains in IPL because they are passionate about their jobs.
Leading an IPL team is not an easy job as it may seem to a lot of people. Unlike national teams, you get just two months to build a team and get it to perform. Captaining in T20s is tougher than Tests and ODIs. You have to remain calm and know your players really well to make decisions when the game moves so fast. Dhoni’s calm is the template and Rohit has also grown in the same manner.
And now when everyone discusses his future and talks about how a good IPL season could help his cause, I have two questions: 1) Has Dhoni been dropped after the World Cup? 2) Is KL Rahul your long-term option as a keeper-batsman? The day somebody could answer these two questions together, you’ll know the significance of MS Dhoni.