Happy birthday MS Dhoni! India’s most successful captain turns 39

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Happy birthday MS Dhoni! India’s most successful captain turns 39

MS Dhoni. MS Dhoni, No. 7. MS Dhoni, No. 7. All of Ranchi, shouting Dhoni. All of India, shouting Mahi…

He rose from the small confines of a city barely known for its cricket history. He didn’t have the brightest of starts to his international career – but when he arrived, he became a phenomenon. A phenomenon so big, that years later, a West Indian cricketer born miles away in Trinidad and Tobago now recognises not only his city but dedicates a whole line to it in one of his songs for MS Dhoni.

Dhoni led a country which is passionate and highly opinionated about its cricket. Roughly a billion eyeballs applauded, analysed and scrutinized every move he made. On the field, however, the fanfare was received by an equally calming presence of Dhoni the captain, and Dhoni the batsman. It was almost as if he had this utter disregard for the situation – at least in his demeanour, which became weirdly reassuring with time. He seemed the single constant in the otherwise chaotic, ever-changing world.

With a thud to the handle, a little adjustment to the left eye and a swing of the elbow, he would take the guard and resume the use of his superpower – the ability to shut everything else all down and go on with his business.

Again, and again, and again, and again. For 350 ODIs, 90 Tests, 98 T20Is, and 190 matches in the Indian Premier League, to be precise.

The former Indian captain turned 39 on Tuesday and wishes have been pouring in from all corners of the world for him. For fans and cricketers across the globe, MS Dhoni is one of the greatest captains, greatest hitters and greatest limited-overs batsmen to ever grace the game. For Indians, he is all and above it all, too. He is the revered ‘Thala’ – the leader.

After a series of disappointing outings during his debut tour in Bangladesh, Dhoni rose in batting position – and stardom, in the home series against Pakistan in 2005. In the second ODI of the series, Dhoni slammed a brilliant 148 in Visakhapatnam while batting at number three. It wasn’t new for him, though. He had scored two centuries against Pakistan A while batting at the same position in August 2004 during the tour to Kenya – the series which proved key for his entry to the international setup.

He batted as a man possessed throughout the innings – a man solely focused on deriving satisfaction from proving his doubters wrong. In hindsight, he was fortunate to have Rahul Dravid at the other end during his century, for there came a moment when, in the undying urge to end his mediocre run of scores, he began to take too many risks as he neared the three-figure mark.

“Dravid is more intense, and with him there would be more discussions on strategy, on building an innings – even if I play six dot-balls, he’d ask me to relax, to concentrate, to hit straight and not go for big shots,” he was quoted as saying after the match during an interview with ESPNCricinfo.

For more mature intentions in the future, Dhoni retained the ability to remain possessed when he was on the field. A few months later, he would smash the Sri Lankan bowlers left, right and centre to score 183* in Jaipur – his highest ODI score till date. If it wasn’t already clear, Dhoni announced in 2005 that he was in for the long run.

Two years later, Dhoni was part of the Indian squad which faced one of its darkest phases on the cricket field. India had been knocked out of the 2007 World Cup in the group stages with losses to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The fans were outraged and effigies were burnt. Dhoni’s house was attacked, too.

In a promotional event many years later, Dhoni revealed that he felt like a “murderer or terrorist.”

“… you know, media cars around us with their cameras and the big lights on top, it felt as if we had committed a big crime, maybe like a murderer or terrorist or something. We were actually chased by them,” Dhoni had said.

“That actually had a big impact on me and I channelised the aggression to become a better cricketer and a better human being.”

The aggression was eventually put to good use as Dhoni, in the same year, brought the Indian cricket team redemption with a stunning victory in the inaugural T20 World Cup. After the senior Indian cricketers voluntarily decided to withdraw from the tournament, Dhoni’s young brigade defied the odds to emerge as the world champions, beating more experienced T20I sides like Australia, South Africa and England along the way before defeating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final.

The T20 World Cup also marked the beginning of a successful chapter for Dhoni and Indian cricket, which would complete its fairytale finish in 2013.

“Of course, Sachin. He was already a star when I was in my formative years. At that time I had no idea who Vivian Richards was. For me, Tendulkar was the biggest hero.”

Dhoni said these words when he was asked about his hero growing up during an interview in 2005. In six years, Dhoni had reached a stage where the onus was on him to deliver the one untouched piece of silverware in Tendulkar’s vast trophy cabinet – a World Cup.

The 2011 World Cup is, perhaps, one of the most cherished memories for Indian cricket fans across the globe for this reason. It was the last chance for Tendulkar and there couldn’t have been a better place to lift the trophy than one’s own home.

Poetically, it was indeed Dhoni who finished things off in style to fulfil Tendulkar’s dream. The Indian captain not only ended Australia’s incredible domination in the tournament but also played a crucial role in the final which almost seemed lost when the celebrated duo of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed early in the chase.

Dhoni remained unbeaten on 91 while Gautam Gambhir scored 97, as India cruised to a six-wicket victory in the final against Sri Lanka at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai. Tendulkar’s dream came to life, and Dhoni added another feather to his cap.

The 2013 Champions Trophy saw MS Dhoni becoming the first captain in the history of the game to win all the ICC trophies. It had added significance – the Indian team was in a transitional phase and didn’t have good results to back their claim for the cup ahead of the tournament.

Rohit Sharma was asked to open the innings ahead of the tournament after having spent the entirety of his career as a middle-order batsman. The experiment worked, however, and India enjoyed the entire campaign unbeaten.

In the final, Dhoni stood apart with his captaincy again, asking Ishant Sharma – the most expensive bowler in the innings, to complete his quota of four overs. Call it luck or sheer genius, or a combination of both, the risk paid the rewards and India secured a thrilling five-run win over hosts England.

MS Dhoni was now on the top of the world – he still is.

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