Dhoni-Kohli
They come, they go. Greater men have come. Greater men have done greater deeds. But no one could attain what MS Dhoni did © Getty Images

India are 169 for 6. They need another 215 to win. At the crease is MS Dhoni, India captain. It is almost twilight. The venue is MCG, the majestic Melbourne Cricket Ground. And it is the last day of the Boxing Day Test.

We are one day away from 2015. It is the holiday season. The vibrant Australian crowd is in a festive mood. Everything seems Christmassy. The sky is orange. The sky is blue. It is difficult to figure out. The Gods, somewhat, seem biased Down Under. It is twilight, after all. The sun is going down.

India are 169 for 6. They need another 215 to win and Australia only 4 wickets. At the crease is MS Dhoni, India captain.

Only 6 overs to go. India have no option but to play for a draw. Australians continue being Australians. They are already 2-0 up in the series. They can settle for a draw and retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy anyways. But they take no half measures. They go for the kill. They want to make it 3-0.

India are 169 for 6. They have only 4 wickets to save the Test. At the crease is MS Dhoni, India captain.

Australia’s stand-in captain Steven Smith hands the ball to Shane Watson, the man with the golden arm. The ball is 64 overs old. There are signs of reverse-swing. Who better than Watson to trap MS Dhoni in front?

Wait. Smith is taking his time to set the field. He stations a leg-slip, ironically MS Dhoni’s favourite field position when behind the stumps. There’s forward short-leg as well. A smart move, must say.

All Australia have to do is get rid of MS Dhoni, and the match is theirs to win.

MS Dhoni punches the first ball to cover. The next ball he dances down the track, much like a half-step forward, to reduce the inward movement. The third ball he clips it away to square-leg, and runs two.

MS Dhoni survives the next two deliveries. Watson reverse-swings the ball, angles it into MS Dhoni’s pads. MS Dhoni safely defends the last delivery.

Nathan Lyon comes in to bowl the next over. Can Australia take 4 wickets in 5 overs? Can Nathan put up lyon-hearted show? (Apologies, I couldn’t resist the pun.)

There are players around the bat. The MCG crowd wants a result. The sky is still orange. The sky is still blue. It is still difficult to figure out. It is twilight, after all. The sun is going down.

MS Dhoni, at the non-striker’s end, stands like a robot, his eyes fixed on the field changes. He shows no nerves. But it is Ashwin who is at strike. Ashwin is in the thick of things.

MS Dhoni doesn’t give Ashwin a pep talk. MS Dhoni let things be. MS Dhoni continues being MS Dhoni. There was no reaction whatsoever from MS Dhoni, the Indian captain.

For the confident Ashwin we know he is, he plays the first five balls successfully. Lyon then bowls one onto the pads. Ashwin tucks it away past backward square-leg. Dhoni sprints for the third run, and retains strike.

MS Dhoni then walks to Smith. They talk inanimately. They shake hands now and call it a draw, with 4 overs to go. MS Dhoni walks back to the crease and plucks out a stump with swag. His actions speak something. But it is difficult to tell, for he deals in silence.

Australia retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and MS Dhoni is walking towards the pavilion with a stump in his hand, like he did after he hit a six off Nuwan Kulasekara to win ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 at Wankhede Stadium. India lose the series, and MS Dhoni is walking towards the pavilion with a stump in his hand at MCG.

Players are involved in the mandatory handshakes. So is MS Dhoni, with a stump in his hand.

The sky is still orange. The sky is still blue. The sun is going down. MS Dhoni, India captain, is in the twilight of his Test career, after all.

The stump was a sign. MS Dhoni had already decided to call it a day from Test cricket.

“We need a bit of time. It’s a new side, not everyone is experienced. Over the last six months, they are getting better. It is a matter of time before we start delivering,” says MS Dhoni at the post-match presentation.

Mark the words ‘time’ and ‘experience’. He has said them for a reason. This is it, he knows. He has actually let us know without anyone realising. But it is MS Dhoni. It is difficult to decipher him.

MS Dhoni goes to the post-match press conference, talks to the media, uses his wily presence of mind to tackle questions, makes them laugh, has a good time.

“It depends on what kind of an answer people want. I can answer a spicy one. I can give a very sober answer,” he says with misty eyes and grey beard. There were hints we had failed to read.

He smiles. The media laughs. He signs off. He comes back. He tells BCCI he wants to quit Test cricket. He requests them to not reveal it to the press, for he wanted to tell his teammates first.

Remember how he had run hard for the third run to retain strike before the match had ended in a draw? He is still at the crease, unbeaten on 24.

The sky was dark. It was no more difficult to figure out. The sun had gone down. MS Dhoni was now a former India Test cricketer.

That was that. That was MS Dhoni’s retirement from Test cricket.

***

MS Dhoni then became the father of a baby girl just before ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. He refused to fly back for a reason: duty.

MS Dhoni said he was on a national duty, and had already prioritised his work. India lost in the semi-final, but MS Dhoni had successfully completed his national duty.

India then lost to Bangladesh 1-2; then to South Africa 2-3; then to Australia 1-4.

India then had a respite in the T20Is. They beat Australia 3-0; then emerged triumphant in Asia Cup T20 2016; though they lost in the semi-final of ICC World T20 2016.

Amidst all this, the Virat Kohli-led Test team had beaten Sri Lanka 2-1 in Sri Lanka and South Africa 3-0 back in India. Kohli was already stealing Dhoni’s thunder, and the only Indian cricketer to do so ever since the great Sachin Tendulkar hung his boots.

India then lost to West India 0-1 in USA in two-T20I series. In one of them MS Dhoni failed to score 2 off the last ball. India then beat Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. That was no big deal. But again, we saw Neville Madziva keeping MS Dhoni’s last-ball heroics at bay. Yes, the sheen was wearing off. But then India beat New Zealand in ODI series.

Amidst all this, Virat Kohli’s men had beaten West Indies 2-0 in West Indies and 3-0 New Zealand back in India. His team then beat England 4-0, eventually becoming the No. 1 team in ICC Test Rankings. There, he stole more thunder.

There were already talks of Kohli replacing MS Dhoni as the captain in limited-overs as well.

MS Dhoni was batting at No. 5, and then No. 4. His captaincy had not changed, but he was slowly trying to take the finisher’s role off his armoury. He was making changes in his approach — not much, but the mechanism wasn’t the same. Meanwhile, there were talks of Kohli replacing MS Dhoni.

***

There were gaps between the two formats — sometimes weeks, sometimes months.

MS Dhoni was nowhere to be seen. No Instagram post. No tweet. No interview. Where was he? What was he doing? And then, all of a sudden his wife would post a picture of MS Dhoni with his daughter Ziva. The photo would go viral, but again, what was he up to otherwise?

Was he reading books on leadership? Was he hitting the gym? Was he even watching cricket? Or wait, was he thinking about giving up captaincy? What was MS Dhoni up to in between series?

He was then spotted when Jharkhand, his home team, reached the semi-final of Ranji Trophy for the first time.

At around 11.30 in the morning, MS Dhoni had arrived in a chartered aircraft in Nagpur, wasted no time, and joined his state side on Day One of the semi-final.

Whether the t-shirt was tight or he had gained more muscles in the past month was something that left many of us startled. He is MS Dhoni, after all. He grabs headlines. He grabs eyeballs. He grabs attention. He makes us question him.

Nonetheless, MS Dhoni was seen giving tips, practising with them, supporting them. But that wasn’t long ago. That was just three days before Jharkhand were defeated by Gujarat on Day Four. That was just three days before BCCI announced that MS Dhoni has given up the limited-overs captaincy.

When MS Dhoni is off the field, he is off the field. He fades away into the eternity. When MS Dhoni is on the field, he is on the field. He blinds everyone with his limelight.

Who would tell us what goes into the funny little brain of his? Answers have to be found, for this curiosity will never be healed.

First, the retirement from Test cricket was uncalled for. Now, giving up the captaincy is uncalled for.

All the same, he won ICC World T20 2007, ICC World Cup 2011, and ICC Champions Trophy 2013 — the first captain to win all three major tournaments.

They come, they go. Greater men have come. Greater men have done greater deeds. But no one could attain what MS Dhoni did.

***

Kohli is only 27, and already has grey beard. This is Indian cricket, for that matter. It carries the burden of its ever-growing population, over a billion of them, to be precise. One day you are a hero, the next day a villain. This is Indian cricket, for that matter.

MS Dhoni used to be at the helm for close to a decade. He hit those last-over sixes. He led India to No. 1 team in either formats. He captained the likes of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, to name a few. He has been there, nailed it. He has done it all.

We have already seen dreams of MS Dhoni lifting the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 for one last time. We wanted to see him do it for one last time. We wanted to see him stand in a corner for the umpteenth time when the team poses for a photograph for one last time. It is not over though. The curtains aren’t down yet.

Remember he had asked Samuel Ferris last year whether his son keeps wickets so he could replace Dhoni? He then added, “I was hoping it was an Indian media guy. You fired the wrong ammunition at the wrong time.”

MS Dhoni might have found a replacement for his captaincy in Kohli. But MS Dhoni has not found a wicketkeeper. But MS Dhoni has not found a finisher who can pull off those last-over heroics.

That is not how MS Dhoni retires. He makes sure his team is in a place to take on any opposition. That is not how MS Dhoni retires. He calls it a day when the media is done asking questions about his retirement.

MS Dhoni is not done with cricket yet. Who knows, India may as well win the ICC World Cup 2019 in England. Who knows, Kohli may as well pick MS Dhoni on his shoulders and thank him like he did with Tendulkar. Who knows, MS Dhoni may finish things off in style.

The curtains are not down yet, but thank you MS Dhoni.