It has been a good two years since my last blog. Becoming a parent and moving countries, made me break the habit. But above everything, it has been pure laziness. Wanted to set things right and it was triggered by Dhoni’s retirement yesterday. It seems like the end of an era for him and end of a phase of our lives. Myriad memories did a flashback as I thought about MSD and his chequered career. Life events from the last decade and a half, popped up, as if it were yesterday. Here are the top moments from the MSD show-reel…
The year was 2004… I had just joined an MNC and working as a management trainee in Mumbai. Huffing and puffing to impress the bosses during the ‘Purple Star’ days to get a good first sales assignment location. We did manage to sneak out early one evening to catch the Challenger Trophy cricket action at Wankhede. As India Seniors comfortably beat India B, there was this long haired, fit and fast, impulsive wicket keeper who came to bat as an opener and scored an unbeaten ton at more than a run a ball to help set up an easy chase of 275. Particularly remember a hooked six off a bouncer which was still rising as it crossed the boundary and out of the stadium. Welcome to the world MSD!
My first sales stint was in the north of India. We would do trade visits in the first half of the day and then go to the branch office to review the progress for the month and meet the team to plan ahead. As we did our meetings one day, we kept following the India vs Sri Lanka match on TV in the common area. This young stud was promoted to no.3 in a tough chase of almost 300. He would keep stepping out to the spinners and tonk them over long on. Dhoni got 183 not out that day to set up an easy win with four overs to spare. The machine and his brilliance in a chase- the lore was already taking shape.
I was settling down at work now. Doing my sales stint in an upcountry location- lot of travel, but work I enjoyed. We had a get together with pals for a friend’s marriage. As we complained on how we used none of the theory we learnt during MBA at work, we started following India’s ODI series match in Pakistan. Another 280+ chase, but MSD and Yuvi made it a walk in the park. While Dhoni helped us stay ahead of the asking rate, we finished a bottle- we also ensured that we stayed ahead of the required run-rate 😊
2007- I was based out of Kolkata that year and got married. There was despair for cricket fans after the early World Cup exit- losing to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Amidst the doom, a new look India side travelled to the T20 World Cup without the ‘Holy Trinity’ (Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly). No one gave us a hope in hell, but a captain believed! Inspiring the young Turks, he helped us win a bowl-out vs Pakistan (where he nominated an unusual bowler like Uthappa!). We won close matches vs Australia and Pakistan in the Knockouts where he made a rookie like Joginder Sharma bowl the last over. On the day of the final, as Misbah got the scoop shot wrong and Sreesanth took the catch, the sky opened up and there was torrential rain to celebrate a new phase in India’s cricketing future.
As I started growing professionally, so did Dhoni and his India team now. As I was about to board a flight in between a busy work week, I read on Cricinfo how we finally broke through Amla and his stoic resistance to win at Eden- that made us the no.1 Test team in the world in 2010.
2011- the World Cup in our own country. We had done well but not won the cup for 28 years. As MS struggled through the cup as a batsman, India also moved through the group phase with a few stutters. The Knockout phase had some deadly matchups- Australia in the quarters, Pakistan in the semis, and Lanka in the finals. In the decider, we seemed down and out-31/2 with Sehwag and Sachin back in the hut chasing 275. Gauti and the young Kohli steadied the boat but at 114/3, it was anybody’s game. Everyone expected Yuvi who was having a stellar series, but surprise! Dhoni walked out at no.5. He took on the challenge head on. Murali was bowling and he figured that he had a better chance to take on the off-spinner than the southpaw Yuvi. MS milked the bowling, took the singles and hit the occasional boundaries. We kept biting our finger nails but the asking rate stayed manageable for most parts. The signature finish- that six over long on off Kulasekara is possibly the most remembered shot in the minds of people in our generation. We won the cup, Dhoni was missing in the final team picture as team mates celebrated with Sachin on their shoulders in his farewell World Cup.
Life was good. As a couple, we travelled the world and MS also took India to new heights in different shores. His signature was to take it deep in a chase and then win it in the last over- so the 13 he got vs Mckay in Australia (including this 112 metre six!) or the 15 vs Eranga in the WI triseries (with the last man on the other side), became more the expected than a surprise.
Life moved on- both the professional and personal. Every year, a leaf would turn. What was constant during this time was IPL and how consistent MS and his CSK team were. Dhoni would ask for the same set of players at the auction table while the other franchises chopped and changed. He would show faith in his wards, give them specific roles and then back them to the hilt. Economics surely was MS’s favourite subject as he knew how best to maximize a set of constrained assets. The helicopter shots would be out and last over chases aced with a smile and a nod. It was foolish of IPL- they would play for 45 days every year just to decide which three teams would join CSK in the semis!
2011-2012- life is not a bed of roses- there are ups and downs. Post the World cup high, MS took us to overseas tours in England and Australia where we the India team fell flat. A lot of hype was created before the series but we were just not up to the mark. The Midas touch which gave us so many great results in limited overs cricket (including a Champions Trophy too), seemed to have deserted us in away test series.
The struggles were becoming real now- the spring in the steps in the 20’s and early 30’s, were a thing of the past. Last over effortless finishes gave way to laboured and slow crawls. Dhoni would take the matches deep but would be unable to finish them. There was a lot of debate on whether he should be in the team at all for the 2019 World Cup. But Kohli wanted him, his inputs during fielding was invaluable. He was also crucial in the ‘green’ middle order which was very unsettled. I still think they made a big mistake keeping him at no.7 in the semis. He could have shepherded the others better at no.4 that day and Pant/ Kartik/ Pandya could have hit better around him during the slog. Alas, Guptill’s direct hit from the deep ensured that India (in the World Cup) and MS’s journey were both over.
He gave it up in tests when we least expected him to. In limited overs cricket, it was very expected though deep down as fans we were hoping that this day does not come soon. Still, we will enjoy him wearing the Yellow now (for CSK in the IPL) instead of the Blue.
Calm, yet competitive. Humble and always smiling. The mind of an Einstein. The best when it came to acing the chase. A true leader who built on Ganguly’s legacy and took Indian cricket to a stratospheric level. Three ICC event wins, no.1 Test rank, multiple IPL triumphs- so many happy memories for us cricket fans. A charismatic leader, but above all a really nice and down-to-earth human being. We will miss you- but now you can go missing without us looking for you. Thank you for the happy times MS. Au Revoir!