Mahendra Singh Dhoni
July 07, 1981, Ranchi, Bihar (now Jharkhand)
Also Known As
Right hand bat
Right arm medium
Barring Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni is probably the most popular and definitely the most scrutinised cricketer from India. He has got to this point coming from the cricketing backwaters, the mining state of Jharkhand, and through a home-made batting and wicketkeeping technique, and a style of captaincy that scales the highs and lows of both conservatism and unorthodoxy. Under Dhoni's captaincy, India have won the top prize in all formats: topping the Test rankings for 18 months starting December 2009, the 50-over World Cup in 2011 and the World T20 on his captaincy debut in 2007.
Dhoni, then a ticket inspector with the Indian Railways, had escaped all attention bar the odd whisper among the followers of club cricket in Kolkata until he was 23, when he blasted two centuries in a triangular 50-over tournament for India A in Nairobi. Long-haired and fearless, he soon swaggered into international cricket, and became an instant darling of the crowds with ODI innings of 148 and 183 within a year of his debut.
Dhoni demonstrated all that was right with the new middle-class India. He didn't respect reputations, but never disrespected either. He improvised, he learned, but didn't apologise for his batting style, which was not the most elegant. He became a multi-faceted ODI batsman, one who could accumulate, one who could rebuild, and one who could still unleash those big sixes.
Along the way Dhoni showed leadership skills, which were recognised when Rahul Dravid gave up the captaincy in 2007. Just before that announcement from Dravid, Dhoni had taken a bunch of kids to South Africa and was leading India to a World Cup win in a format the country didn't even take seriously. The ODI captaincy was natural progression, and Anil Kumble just kept the seat warm in Tests for a year.
Dhoni brought to captaincy a thick skin and relative indifference to results that an Indian captain needs to keep the job for long. Along with coach Gary Kirsten, he put his senior performers in a comfortable place, and they returned the favour with some of their best years in international cricket. His calmness on the field helped and worked like a charm in the shorter formats, although tactically he sometimes sat back for too long in Tests. All that can't argue with the fact that India had some of their best years in Test cricket, in terms of tangible achievement, under Dhoni.
However, post the 50-over World Cup win in 2011, which Dhoni sealed with a timely 91 and his patented helicopter shot, an ageing team kept losing in unfamiliar conditions. After eight straight Test losses away from home, Dhoni the captain came under immense pressure, which was accentuated by a 2-1 home series loss to England in 2012-13, the first time India had lost at home in more than eight years. This brought out a new chapter in Dhoni's career wherein he seemed more assertive as a captain, started building a new team, played his best Test innings on a turner to win India the Chennai Test against Australia, and became the first captain to lead India to four wins in a series.
Away from home in the winter of 2013-14, India lost Test series in South Africa and New Zealand by 1-0 margins that did not reflect how close they came close to wins on both tours. The England tour of 2014 began promisingly, with a drawn first Test followed by a historic win at Lord's, but India crashed to earth immediately afterwards to lose the series 3-1. At Old Trafford and The Oval, with the batting crumbling around him, Dhoni played a couple of his bravest innings in Tests, dealing with the seam movement and bounce by stepping down the pitch and taking blows on his body.
Wins once again proved elusive on the tour of Australia that followed, though India competed ferociously thanks to a young batting core led by Kohli.
Kohli had captained the side in the first Test, with Dhoni injured, and he would lead them in the fourth Test too, with Dhoni making a surprise announcement after the third Test in Melbourne that he was retiring from the longest format.
Though his game was not as suited to Tests as it was to limited-overs cricket, Dhoni ended his career in whites with a proud record for a wicketkeeper: 4876 runs at an average of just over 38, and six hundreds. He had also captained India to more Test wins - 27 - than anyone else.
Dhoni continued to lead India in the shorter formats, and they shrugged off a win-less tour of Australia by reaching the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup. A year later, they won the Asia Cup T20 in Bangladesh but exited the World T20 in the semi-finals, at home. Dhoni enjoyed a good tournament as a finisher, scoring 89 runs while only being dismissed once in five innings; he showed electric reflexes while keeping to the spinners, eventually playing on till the 2019 World Cup, though he gave up the limited-overs captaincy in January 2017.
India's defeat to New Zealand in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup turned out to be Dhoni's final international match, although that wasn't officially confirmed till more than a year later. In the immediate aftermath of that result, there was lots of speculation about whether Dhoni would call it quits. He didn't, but he did opt out of India's series for the rest of 2019 and early 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic then brought all sporting action to a halt. Just as players' preparations for the delayed IPL began, in August, on India's Independence Day, Dhoni made the big announcement - on Instagram. He was retiring from all international cricket.
In the IPL, Dhoni has been the face of the Chennai Super Kings franchise. He became so deeply associated with the city that he even became a co-owner of a Chennai-based football franchise. But in 2016, with Super Kings suspended for two seasons over issues stemming from the spot-fixing scandal of 2013, he was part of the IPL's new franchise Rising Pune Supergiants. Super Kings were reinstated in 2018 and Dhoni was back at the helm, leading the team to a fairytale third title. He almost repeated the feat in 2019, losing a thrilling final against Mumbai Indians by just 1 run.
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