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Posted at: Jul 14, 2019, 7:11 AM; last updated: Jul 14, 2019, 7:11 AM (IST)

We might have seen Dhoni play last time

Pradeep Magazine
BY INVITATION
Pradeep Magazine
In WC semis, Dhoni had the last chance to prove he still had it in him to secure improbable wins. He failed. Nevertheless, he continues to be one of the greatest ODI cricketers ever to have played the game
We might have seen Dhoni play last time
Inscrutable: MS Dhoni has always been calm and collected, in triumphs as well as in defeats.

Pradeep Magazine

IT speaks of his immeasurable skills, stature and ability that even when India seemed down and out, his team, experts and fans had not given up. The asking rate in the World Cup semifinals had become almost insurmountable with just two overs remaining, yet India had hope. Even New Zealand, despite the grip they had on the match, were not sure they could win. One man stood between them and a berth in the final: Mahendra Singh Dhoni.  He had, many times in the past, done the unimaginable, shepherding his team to unlikely wins when all seemed to have been lost. Now at the end of his matchless career, he was standing alone, stoic as always, hoping to perform a miracle one more time. 

As one wondered whether he still had it in him to do an encore, many images flashed through the mind. Dhoni reflects inner peace and calm while standing behind the stumps and marshalling his troops. No matter what the match situation, no matter whether India are weathering an unimaginable storm or heading to an easy win, the expression on his face never changes. It is as if he is wearing a mask that gives no clue as to what he is thinking and planning. Even his eyes are expressionless and somewhat cold. He is there and yet far removed from the scene of action.

His response to India's major triumphs has been understated, never over the top, even if he had played a major role in those wins. When he led India for the first time in the T-20 World Cup in 2007, he was just 24. A young man bubbling with talent and energy that most players of this flashy generation would have flaunted unabashedly, he chose to be understated even after he had led his team to a sensational win in the final over Pakistan. While his teammates were wildly celebrating, he was seen taking off his India shirt and handing it over to a child draped in an Indian flag. Then there is that much publicised winning shot, the six that he hit to help India win the 2011 World Cup at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium. While his partner at the other end, Yuvraj Singh, went berserk with joy, Dhoni retained his calm and steely look.

Fast forward to the heart-breaking moments of the 2019 World Cup semifinal on Tuesday, July the 9th. Dhoni was once again at centre stage. His striking and finishing powers had been questioned time and again in the tournament. Those very legendary skills which saw him lead India to wins in the closing stages of a game with brutal strikes, evoking awe over the years, seemed to have deserted him. On the wrong side of 37 and in the twilight of his career, he had one last chance to show that he was the same old Dhoni whose outside calm hides an irrepressible rage that can swamp everything around him. He had so far been a silent partner to Ravindra Jadeja's telling strikes that had taken India close to an unlikely win. He had, like many times before, insulated himself from the surroundings, not letting the pressure of a mounting asking rate disturb his defensive approach. Tongues were wagging. He had put too much pressure on Jadeja with his 'crawl' and only his famed skill of making light of any asking rate in the last couple of overs of a match could have redeemed him.

Just as he exploded with a six and raised the expectations, he fell. Run out to a magical piece of athleticism from Martin Guptill. The stadium, filled to the rafters with raucous Indian supporters, fell silent. Dhoni, emotionless and expressionless, walked back, though some say they detected a tear in his eye. It could have been his longest walk back to the dressing room, given the dejection and despairing thoughts he might have been assailed with. 

For all we know, it may have been the last time we have seen Dhoni play for India. While India mourns its World Cup exit, spare a thought for one of the greatest limited-overs cricketers ever to have played the game.

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