Why did MS Dhoni retire? IANS (File Photo)
Why did MS Dhoni retire? IANS (File Photo)

The confusion and awe around MS Dhoni continues to hang in the air at the turn of the year. Abhishek Mukherjee tries perhaps in vain to deconstruct one of the most unusual retirement decisions in the history of cricket.

Complete coverage of MS Dhoni’s Test retirement

I was having a conversation with a friend earlier today on what makes MS Dhoni stand out in Indian cricket history. What has been so different about him? He made an outstanding point: a Sachin Tendulkar may chase down 25 from two overs, or he may not. The same will hold for Dhoni. But during those two overs, Dhoni s demeanour will reassure fans and teammates; in fact, he is so unfazed, fans may even get the feeling the worst possible scenario is a defeat; that is it; what is there to worry?

Dhoni brought calm to perhaps the most volatile cricket-playing nation (fine, Pakistan and Bangladesh would challenge them). There was a sense of certainty in his presence. He won all three ICC tournaments; he was whitewashed overseas; but whatever he did, he never lost his composure.

The first few years were a fairytale: winning ICC World T20; taking over Test captaincy; regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and retaining it; winning a series in New Zealand; drawing series in Sri Lanka and South Africa; reaching the No. 1 spot in Test cricket; and to crown it all, winning the World Cup.

Then everything went downhill: whitewashes in England and Australia; two stalwarts opting out of Test cricket; there were redemptions a home whitewash against Australia and winning the ICC Champions Trophy but he finished with four overseas series defeats in the same year.

What stopped Dhoni from staying on till SCG? If anything, the tour of Australia was the best India had in 2014. Though 0-2 does suggest it, all three Tests have been competitive. India had lost the series anyway, and even if India lost at SCG, Dhoni would not have had to take a lot of flak: the World Cup would be the centre of focus from mid-January.

 

 

More importantly, India does not play a single overseas series in near future. With his fantastic home record, both as captain and as batsman, Dhoni would have had ample opportunities to set his numbers right. As Bharath Seervi has pointed out, he was 124 short of scoring 5,000 Test runs; ten short of the 100-Test mark; fifteen stumpings for the world record (not difficult on turners); six dismissals short of the 300-mark; and a solitary Test win to become the third-most successful home Test captain.

What really happened, then? True, he has seemed a lot older of late. The greying hair and beard does not quite remind fans of the carefree executioner who had once bludgeoned Shoaib Akhtar at Faisalabad anymore. Age and stress had started to show. Four series defeats had taken its toll.

What turmoil was going on beneath that calm exterior? What emotions was he hiding? Was stress finally getting to him? Why did he uncharacteristically snap at the British press with don t be jealous of the IPL and trashing all speculations regarding his retirement?

What happened in the interim? Why did he stay away during the home matches against West Indies and Sri Lanka series that would have helped him regain confidence? Where was he when the world mourned Phillip Hughes, especially when Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri attended the funeral? Why did he not retire following the Adelaide Oval Test after Kohli had stamped his authority, or following the Test at The Gabba where India let Australia slip? What happened at MCG?

The facts do not add up. This is the same man who had reacted a few months back and refused to give up captaincy. It had all seemed normal after The Gabba. This is the same man who had hit back at the media his voice full of justified sarcasm when they kept on forming theories regarding a rift between Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan. Maybe he was pressured. Maybe it was a decision that has been at the back of his mind for ages and was discussed only with family and friends. Or maybe it was sheer impulse.

What happened at MCG? What exactly? We will possibly never get to know, as those lips will probably remain sealed forever. He called the board; told them; he asked for a few minutes to inform his team; and then the board released. Fans and haters alike, everyone will agree to one fact: Dhoni is adamant and determined. Once he has made up his mind to keep his lips sealed, he will not unseal them unless something major happens.

For some reason, despite being a journalist, it does not seem right to intrude. Some questions are better left unanswered. Maybe he will answer them some day. But till then, we can let him have a life and wait for him to come back in blue to beat bowlers black and blue, adjusting his gloves in between.

After six years of gruel and toil, of performing three duties, and keeping his emotions to himself, he is entitled to undisturbed privacy and peace. He has earned it. Finally.

For once, we can let him be.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)