With Dhoni as captain, India’s cricket team has studded its crown with many gems. He still has some international cricket left in him: the country’s cricket would be poorer if he is allowed to go abruptly. He has been one of our best captains. Those who are upset by the recent loss of one-day series to Bangladesh and blame Dhoni for it are forgetting that it was he who redeemed our pride after the team lost to Bangladesh in the T20 World Cup in 2007. Many were sceptical about the boy from small-town Ranchi whose only claim to fame was robust bat. But selectors and seniors had also noted he was humble, cool and friendly. Above all he was innovative. His unorthodox picks as bowling choices and field setting at critical moments of the game often attracted criticism and ridicule, but after he led India to lift the first T20 World Cup in 2007 everybody trusted his unconventional tactics.
In 2007 the challenger was Pakistan and Misbah was going great guns. After hitting Harbhajan for three sixes in the 17th over, Misbah appeared unbeatable. Pakistan was close to win: it just required 13 from the last over. Any fielding captain would have handed the ball to his best bowler in such a crucial over. But Dhoni put his faith in Joginder Sharma who had failed to frighten opposition batsmen in his earlier spells. Joginder’s first ball was a wide; the second a full toss which Misbah hit for six. Everybody felt Dhoni had taken a wrong decision. Pakistan fans in the stadium were roaring. India fans were frozen and melancholy. Then the improbable happened. Tempted by ‘easy’ balls of Joginder, Misbah stepped out of the crease to hit Joginder to fine leg and in the process miscued it to be caught out by Sreesanth at short fine leg. The moment Sreesanth took the catch, Indian fans leapt up in the air. Dhoni’s unorthodox tricks worked. That was the beginning of the fairytale for Dhoni. Dhoni-led India went on to become the number 1 side in Tests. We brought home the Champions trophy and then the ICC World Cup in 2011. The dream run, it seemed, was never going to end. Captain Cool became a cult figure.
However, after six years of remarkable successes Dhoni tripped along the anti-climactic curve. He stayed off the Test series in December last year in Australia due to a sore toe, but later joined the team after the chips were down. When things didn’t work out and India lost the Test series badly, it seemed his dream run had been interrupted. He gave up Test captaincy in a huff in the same series. He had returned to salvage the team’s morale and his mid-term decision went down badly with critics and senior players. Though some said as a human being he had the right to quit and nobody could impose captaincy on anyone, ethically, Dhoni should not have quit halfway in that manner, especially when Team India was down in the pits. The media criticized him for his decision, saying he could have quit on his return to India. It is still not known if Dhoni had consulted the BBCCI chief on his decision.
Though we performed abysmally before the World Cup, our performance during the tournament was not that bad. Worse was yet to come. The recent ODI series against Bangladesh was perhaps the last nail in the coffin as far as his captaincy was concerned. For the first time Captain Dhoni lost his cool and nudged Mustafizur so hard while taking a run that the bowler had to be taken off the ground. And after the humiliating series, he announced his wish to step down with one more match to go.
The BCCI must not let Dhoni go so unceremoniously. Unlike the Australian board, the BCCI has not worked out honourable exits for legends. Australia gives its top players an opportunity to exit with honour and the decision is mutual. It happened with Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. They were never made to look like fading stars sucked into a black hole. In India, except Sachin Tendulkar, no other legend was given his due before retirement. As a result, when these legends were exhausted and could foresee their end, they felt uneasy. Sehwag, who was known as the Nawab of Najafgarh, faced a pitiable ouster. Ganguly had to fight back and returned through the Ranji circuit and finally gave up. Dhoni has served Indian cricket in a very glorious manner. He obviously has the right to quit captaincy and the game. But the Board has to be more supportive to him in his exit moments. If Dhoni does not want to carry on, the BCCI should be considerate and give him an honourable exit. We now have many cricket legends on the BCCI advisory board; we have one also as director; most of them are backing Dhoni to continue for some more time. We hope they are able to exercise influence over Board officials and him to give us a delightful epilogue to Dhoni’s heroic story.