How did MS Dhoni change the face of Indian cricket?

In 2016, at a pre-release event of Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer MS Dhoni: The Untold Story in Hyderabad, Baahubali-fame director SS Rajamouli was all in praise for the former Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

“I started watching cricket in the mid 80s when we had great players like Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Azharuddin. But the cricket was mixed with a sense of joy and fear too whether our team will win or not until this man came along. After Dhoni became the captain of India, we started watching cricket without fear with utter joy,” he said.

Rajamouli’s comment perfectly encompasses what MS Dhoni did to the Indian cricket. He changed the face of it; replaced the fear of losing with the joy of winning.

The former Indian captain and wicket-keeper/batsman celebrates his 40th birthday today. He had announced retirement from all formats of cricket last August. However, Dhoni continues to lead the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) team at the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Besides the iconic helicopter shot in 2011 world cup final that is etched in every cricket fan’s memory, there is more to the legend that meets the eye. 

Dhoni’s legacy

Dhoni’s 15-year-long career has not just changed the face of Indian cricket but also left a huge mark on world cricket forever. 

Dhoni’s international cricket career began on a shaky note. On December 23, 2004, a 23-year-old boy with a bleached mane was run out first ball during his debut match in Chattogram against hosts Bangladesh, ostensibly desperate to score his first international run.

Only in his fifth ODI, a blazing 148 in Visakhapatnam against Pakistan made MSD a household name. That hundred was scored while batting at No.3, just as his second ton (which also happens to be his highest ODI score of 183*) that was scored a year later. He would later go on to establish himself a composed middle order batsman and an able finisher. 

In 2007, Dhoni’s first leadership test was at the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. Dhoni led India’s new-gen to his first of three ICC majors with a win against Pakistan in the final at Johannesburg. This, he did by doing the unthinkable by tossing the ball towards Joginder Sharma against a raging Misbah ul Haq. The result was well-talked of and his captaincy skills were never questioned again. By 2008, Dhoni was captain of all three formats with the Indian team.

Dhoni dragged India to No.1 in the world in Test cricket for the first ever time in their history. This ranking was achieved with a drawn series in South Africa in 2011, making Dhoni the only Indian captain to have not lost a series on those shores.

Dhoni’s finest hour in captaincy came to light at the 2011 world cup, with the Indian side lifting the sweet trophy ending a 28-year wait. ‘THE SIX’ will always be entwined with his legacy.

Dhoni had a fine run as captain in 2013 too, leading India to their second Champions Trophy triumph as they cruised to the title undefeated.

His captaincy and batting sure came under criticism too, for continuous overseas failures. But there is only so much he could do. Tough selection calls, quirky decisions defined the transition phase as the now Indian team took shape under him post-2013.

The game changer

Dhoni’s decisions were something that are often talked about, but for the enigma he is–are not fully comprehended. Dhoni’s emergence ensured that Indian fans could breathe easy in the critical stages of the game. And more importantly, Dhoni as captain showed the cricketing world that it is possible to turn around matches with a stroke of tactical brilliance.

Yes, Virat Kohli might have taken over now, but the cricket world still can’t take their eyes off Dhoni. The decisions are just not the same.

Handing the ball to Joginder Sharma, promoting himself up the batting order over Yuvaraj Singh, letting Rohit Sharma open, using Ishant Sharma for the 18th over, swiftly removing gloves with one run to defend in the last ball are decisions that defined his boldness. They changed the fate of Indian cricket scene altogether.

But it took him only SIXTEEN words to call time on a glittering sixteen-year-long international career. 

The statement on Instagram didn’t care for the rules of spelling, grammar, punctuation or poignant endings; it was precise and unsentimental. ‘from 1929 hrs consider me as Retired’. That’s it.

Pal do pal ka shayar, is he?