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MS Dhoni Retirement: MS Dhoni, A Monk in Frenzied World of Modern Sports

MS Dhoni Retirement: MS Dhoni, A Monk in Frenzied World of Modern Sports

MS Dhoni Retirement: Mahendra Singh Dhoni, former skipper of the Indian cricket team, who just announced his retirement from international cricket, showed us that you don’t always have to spoil your sleep by participating in the mad race of the competitive world of modern sports.

Biswajit Jha

MS Dhoni Retirement: Like happiness, success is something you can’t always achieve by simply chasing it. Sometimes, success comes when you sit peacefully at ease with yourself. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, former skipper of the Indian cricket team, who just announced his retirement from international cricket, showed us that you don’t always have to spoil your sleep by participating in the mad race of the competitive world of modern sports. He, rather, gave the sporting world an alternative model where you can achieve much more by having a philosophical view of sports in particular and life in general.

In this alternative method, Dhoni not only thrived but also left a legacy for the next generation of sportsmen to come. Dhoni did not hanker after captaincy; it came to him as he was destined for it. But when it came, he handled it with utmost maturity and calmness, without ever fussing about it or without trying to cling on to it by any means.

MS Dhoni did not come from cricketing hotspots like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata or Delhi. He rose from Ranchi, an obscure name in India’s cricket map, and served Indian cricket with distinction, both as a player and as a captain. He captained the national team of a cricket-crazy country where even a single failure is treated contemptuously and with utmost disdain and disgust. In India, a captain’s job always hangs in a balance. In reality, it’s one of the most difficult jobs as you are under scrutiny every time you lead your team in the field.

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Dhoni captained India mostly in-between Sourav Ganguly and Virat Kohli, the two most animated and emotional captains Team India has ever had. If Ganguly gave the opposition teams a scare, Dhoni calmly and astutely used that shock therapy to win many a laurel for India on the international stage. When he finally handed the team over to Kohli, Indian cricket was in good health. While both Ganguly and Kohli liked to believe in stimulating the adrenaline flow in their players -and sometimes even in spectators -to win matches, Dhoni was cool and collected, managing his resources with clear-sightedness. That he won some tough matches under some difficult situations, both as a player and as a captain, was because of his self-composure or his ability to remain unruffled under pressure.

It is no doubt that he achieved a lot as a captain, winning the two ICC World Cups, one in T20 cricket in 2007 and the other in a 50-over format in 2011, and the coveted Champions Trophy in 2013. Under his leadership, India went on to become the number one Test side in the world. It all happened because Captain Dhoni understood that to be successful in the high-octane competitive, modern world of sports, he needed to keep his emotions in check which neither Ganguly could do in the 2003 World Cup final against Australia nor could Kohli do in the 2019 semi-final match against New Zealand where the respective Indian teams succumbed to the big match pressure.

As a limited-over batsman, MS Dhoni’s record is as good as anyone. Despite being a dependable wicketkeeper, his batting skill won India many a match. He is the only fifth Indian player to score more than 10,000 runs in ODI cricket. His ODI average, which is more than 50, is better than the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.

But life is not always about winning. Like every player or captain, Dhoni has had his bad days under the sun, too. His record outside India as a Test match skipper was uninspiring. Under his captaincy, India lost to England in 2011, losing the series in a 4-0 whitewash that contained two innings defeats, and another pair of losses by 319 and 196 runs. This devastating tour was followed by a similarly forgettable tour of Australia in 2011-12.

Michael Clarke’s side inflicted similar damage, handing Dhoni a pair of innings defeat and another loss by 122 runs. Such tours have had a big impact on India’s statistical record away from home under Dhoni, resulting in a set of numbers that highlight the very contrasting performance of India at home and away tour.

But the uniqueness of Dhoni was that he never clung to any position or power. When he thought his time was up, he announced his departure both as a player and captain from Test cricket in the middle of the series in Australia in 2014. When he thought Kohli should lead the ODI team, he handed over the captaincy and played under him without any arrogance of a former captain. He rather carried himself very well as a senior player, taking out vital inputs from his vast repertoire of experience to help Kohli win tight matches.

Dhoni had that distinctive aloofness which helped him retain his composure in every situation. Neither success made him ecstatic nor failure made him gloomy. He remained equally cool in any situation. One could hardly gauge how happy he was after a win or how sad he was after a debacle. He was somehow indifferent to success or failure. Or, at least, he would not allow us to understand his feelings.

When the many small-town boys lose their focus in the glamorous world of international sports, Dhoni handled his success and failure with equanimity. That he could retain his composure under any circumstances proves that he took life as it came to him. That’s why he was at ease in taking the backseat at the time of glory. When India won the World Cups in 2007 and in 2011, Dhoni was happy to let others hog the limelight.

While he experienced life as a ticket checker of Indian Railways at the obscure Kharagpur station in the West Bengal-Jharkhand border, he tasted a glamorous life as the skipper of the Indian cricket team- yet, he has always been rooted to the ground. Notwithstanding his aloofness, he had a penchant for life. He rode costly bikes and cars, and built his own magnificent farmhouse in his hometown, Ranchi. But he never seemed to get addicted to these — or these material things never got the better of him. He had a sense of belonging without being possessive. And when the times demanded, he could let go of everything without any bitterness. He was as engaged and focused as anyone in every minute of the game, but still there was a monk-like detachment in him.

In the Buddhist way of living, one can be truly composed when one learns to live in the present as the past holds one back while the future makes one tense. Dhoni, whose power of concentration is similar to those of Zen monks, somehow mastered the art of living in the present moment which was the reason he successfully lived peacefully at his own pace in a mad world of modern-day cricket despite several severe criticisms.

He started as a flamboyant player but became a dependable chaser. He started as a young man with full of vigour and zest for life but later became philosophical in nature. Whether cricket changed him or he changed the way cricket should be played is a matter of another discussion.

The highly philosophical Bollywood song “Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon/Pal do pal meri kahani hai…” sung by Mukesh in the movie Kabhie Kabhie starring Amitabh Bachchan, which he posted as a background music along with the montage on his Instagram account, sums up Dhoni’s approach towards cricket as well as towards life.

As we find in the song, Dhoni also knew his cricket career, like many other earthly stuff, would be a temporary one. Many cricketers, even the greats, had come before him and faded away. Some performed, some did not. He knew that he would depart one day and someone would take his place. So he departed silently much away from public glare and without any grand farewell.

That he was aware of his transient cricket career, or life in general, was evident the way he approached the game of cricket. Again like a Buddhist monk, he simply wanted to play his role serenely in this transient world where impermanence rules.

(Biswajit Jha is a journalist-turned-social entrepreneur, columnist, and author. His book ‘Bike Ambulance Dada’ will be published by Penguin India very soon.)