Never seen this kind of buzz - Dhoni
MS Dhoni has always had a sense of occasion, and doesn't mind a bit of showmanship either. When Sourav Ganguly retired from Test cricket in 2008-09, Dhoni let him captain the side towards the end of the match. Now Sachin Tendulkar is the only other of India's fab four batsmen who has given a prior notice of his retirement. Dhoni was asked on the eve of Tendulkar's last, and 200th, Test what he had planned. A mysterious reply with a mischievous smile has promised much.
"You'll have to wait and watch over the next five days," Dhoni said. "I want you to concentrate." Concentrate people will. Oh they surely will. The buzz around the Test, Dhoni said, "has never happened in the past, let alone the eight-10 years that I've been around".
Dhoni has himself maintained a sense of equilibrium with the retirement around, and his wishlist for Tendulkar's final Test is similar. "I'd like him to enjoy, because you can't guarantee performance," Dhoni said. "Of course you can say [hope he gets] a hundred, a double-hundred, a triple-hundred or 500, whatever. But at the end of the day the most important moment is that it is his last Test match. It's important that he enjoys this and hopefully get us a few wickets... You can get a bit of turn and bounce on this Mumbai wicket."
Bowling over the years has been something Tendulkar has visibly enjoyed more than his batting, which requires intense focus under the helmet. Dhoni got Tendulkar to bowl in Kolkata last week, and intends to do the same by the looks of it. Not that the fans will complain.
"It [bowling Tendulkar at Eden] was strategy [and not a farewell gimmick], it got us a wicket," Dhoni said. "You see, we don't have a fifth bowler because [Ravindra] Jadeja is not here. So we are playing with four bowlers and a few part-timers. Most of the others can bowl, there is Rohit who can bowl, but it's important that if there are a few overs of part-timers, it helps... If there are chances that you're going to take the second new ball, you don't want your main bowlers to be tired. So it's a strategy."
Most of Dhoni's press conference centred around Tendulkar - he did say he didn't know how the pitch would play, and that West Indies should not be disrespected - which can be an irritant because a Test match is to be played, but Dhoni understood the reaction. "It's too late to ask whether it's a distraction or not because whatever has happened has happened," Dhoni said. "I think it's a big part and parcel of the game. It's a big historic moment, and people are trying to do whatever they can, and we don't really mind that.
"As I said in the last match also we're treating it as normal as possible. Of course there are plenty of things that are going around, so we've kept the focus and the drive whatever best we could do. They're enjoying the moment, which I feel is the key, but at the same time we're focussed."
Asked to rate Tendulkar, Dhoni summed up his career well. "I would consider him as great because when it comes to Indian cricket, you're under the microscope throughout," Dhoni said. "He's seen the format change, right from start in 1989. From that time, Test cricket has changed significantly. ODI cricket, there have been a plenty of changes. The introduction of T20 has come, and overall it had an impact on each and every thing.
"It's not only the cricketing aspect; I think what's difficult is handle success in India, the expectations of the people. We're expected to win each and every game, which is not possible. Yes, there are other greats, but there was one thing they didn't have to deal with, and that's the level of expectations. When you're doing well that itself puts pressure on you. But imagine when you're going through a lean patch, the expectations go up, they never come down.
"So you've to handle all those things. I have seen some of the foreign cricketers, they handle the cricketing pressures well. But when it comes to handling the pressures that are not really related to cricket, they buckle under... So he's been fantastic, and there's plenty to learn from him. Right from 1989 he became big star, for a quarter of century he's played for India, and he's always been a star."
The obvious question of who after Tendulkar arose, and Dhoni said he would cross that bridge once he arrived there. "We'll see future in the future, whether we're prepared or not," Dhoni said. "We'll know that later, I can't say what will happen outside India. If you're saying that if a replacement for Sachin is required, no, there is no such. Neither do we have a replacement for Rahul Dravid or someone else.
"What's important is that we take the new players on their face value. It's not about filling someone's shoes. Virat is Virat Kohli, not someone else. Same way Cheteshwar Pujara. If you start comparing individuals with some great players, it only adds pressure on them. It's important that Pujara, he has a different character than the players who are gone."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo