Dhoni will have to face the ‘retirement’ question more often, but it will be in the best interest of the team if he continues to play. © Getty Images.
Dhoni will have to face the ‘retirement’ question more often, but it will be in the best interest of the team if he continues to play. © Getty Images.

The fifth and the final One-Day International (ODI) between India and Australia, being played at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), turned out to be a humdinger as India required 13 runs from the last over to win. If it were to be a couple of years ago, the Indian fans would have breathed a sigh of relief, for their ‘captain cool’ MS Dhoni was in charge. The man had been there and done that so many times that the result would already have been a foregone conclusion. He is just the kind of player you would want to have in such situations. With an ice-cool temperament and tremendous self-confidence, he would get the team over the line nine times out of ten. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: 1st T20I match, India vs Australia, 2015-16.

But this is 2016, and there were nerves all around the park. Dhoni is no more the player he once used to be; someone who could take things till the very end and finish it off in style. His powers are waning, his reflexes getting weaker, and his Midas Touch vanished into thin air. Every time he walked onto the cricket field, or for a media interaction, the critics were ready with their sharpened knives in anticipation of yet another failure. The team’s poor run further compounded problems for the beleaguered skipper, who could not control the downward spiral with the limited resources at his disposal. ALSO READ: India vs Australia 2015-16, 1st T20I at Adelaide, Preview: Battered visitors look to reverse fortunes.

Though it is quite unfair to him, talks about his impending retirement would only grow louder with the team’s repeated failures. First in Bangladesh, then against the touring South Africans, and now Down Under, the team continued to fail under him. The bowlers, as it has been the case since time immemorial in Indian cricket, let down the team on most of the occasions. It was apparent that Dhoni was not left with the same powers and sway he once held in team selection. As a result, he had to go on with whatever he had, looking at one loss after the other quite haplessly from behind the stumps. But all critics cared about were the results and the choices he made with the team selection. ALSO READ:
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When it came to batting, Dhoni was caught in the undertow. The top-order consisting of the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, and the supremely talented Virat Kohli was doing exceptionally well. But it was the middle and the lower-order that was India’s Achilles’ heel. The conundrum for him was whether to bat at No. 4, where he personally wished to, or to bat lower to support the newcomers and play the finisher’s role. Being as selfless as he is, Dhoni chose what was in the best interest of the team. He let go of his personal desire to play at his preferred position, but the critics obviously could not see this. All they cared was why he did not hit out from the word go, not caring about his sacrifice and that the same top order was handpicked and backed by him when it failed. ALSO READ: India vs Australia 2015-16: Rohit Sharma’s 171*, Steven Smith’s 149, Manish Pandey’s 104* and other top innings in the ODI series.

“I would like to bat at No. 4 but the spots are all taken and I can only bat lower down the order. Most of the time, I find it tough to hit the ball straightaway, so I need to bat a few overs. But I will continue to bat lower down the order, and it will continue to be my responsibility in the coming ODIs or whatever I will be playing.” This is what Dhoni recently said during a presser, giving ample evidence of his great leadership and selfless approach. He knew it was his duty to groom this young side in the midst of a transition period. He knew walking away would be the easiest thing to do at this very point, but not the appropriate one, as his team needs him.

They say he is dragging his career, but it was Dhoni who himself had quit Test cricket when he felt his time was up. “If I want to see the 2015 World Cup, I’ll have to retire from one of the formats. It’s too early right now. I am not that old. I am just 30. There is still time,” he had said in 2012, before quietly walking away from the format at the end of 2014 with grace and poise. Having achieved almost everything there was for the taking; he knows his game well and is the best judge on when to call it quits. So the critics must leave it up to him to decide on his retirement, rather than throwing the same question time and again in front of him. ALSO READ: India vs Australia 2015-16 ODI series: Marks out of 10 for the visitors.

But the calls do not seem to end any time soon, with India not playing any major 50-over tournament for the better part of the 2016 — where the first half will be consumed by the Twenty20 (T20) action with the ICC World T20 followed by the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the second half with more than a dozen Test matches at home under Kohli’s leadership. Dhoni will have to face this question more often than not. But it will be in the best interest of the team if he does not pay any heed to such calls and continue to play in the same nonchalant manner that saw him hit Mitchell Marsh in the last over in Sydney for a six.

He did get out on the next ball, but his job was done. Thankfully, Manish Pandey finished the game off, or else the knives would have come out once again. The critics conveniently forget that a captain is only as good as his team and alone cannot make any difference. Hopefully, Dhoni gets the support from his team, specially the bowlers, in the upcoming T20Is and the results take some pressure off him.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)