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Dhoni retires his white flannels

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s last contribution donning the Test whites of India was unlike the man. We did not get a chance to see him land the winning punch — launching into a hapless fast bowler and hitting a six , then nonchalantly  uprooting a stump before sauntering off. This was largely uneventful. Ravichandran Ashwin flicked Nathan Lyon around the corner, and Dhoni ambled across to complete the three runs. These were signs of a tired man. Signs of man who seemed jaded and overburdened, crying out for rest.

Throughout the series against Australia, Dhoni looked like a captain who was just going through the motions. One could hardly hear him say a few words of encouragement for his fast bowlers, his field placing was unimaginative, and the proactiveness that has made him the great leader he is was no where in sight. For most of us, his retirement from Test match cricket seems a tad premature. But for those who have followed Dhoni’s Test match fortunes over the last couple of months, this was an announcement that was always coming.  

So how will we remember Dhoni – the Test match player? On paper, Dhoni is India’s most successful Test captain. After taking over the reins from Anil Kumble in 2008, Dhoni led India to 27 victories. In December 2009, he took India took the pinnacle of the World Test match rankings — a position they held till July 2011. At home, India under Dhoni were almost invincible — winning 21 out of the 30 matches he captained in. While Dhoni will be lauded for making India an impregnable force at home, he will mostly be remembered for a wretched record away from home. In 2011, India were whitewashed by England, and then by Australia. Against England earlier this year, India once again found themselves at the wrong end of a 4-0 annihilation. Dhoni, in the latter part of his Test career, was bashed by critics for his defensive captaincy, errant team selection and lack of proper game plans.

While Dhoni’s results as Test captain  were mixed, so was his batting. Dhoni ends his career with an average of 38.09, a far cry from the 52.85 he averages in One-day international cricket. On India’s travels abroad in the last few years, it was so often Dhoni who stood up and helped the team put up a respectable score on the board. But given the enormous talent he possesses, Dhoni, when he looks back, would know that he could have made more telling contributions with the bat.

The man from Ranchi seems to have timed his exit nicely. With the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand a little over a month away, Dhoni would be better off focusing on India’s title defence. Moreover, in Virat Kohli, the Indian think tank seems to have found a suitable candidate for the job. Dhoni, no doubt, will go down as one of the best Test match skippers India has ever produced. Unfortunately, India’s trajectory under him was one step forward, two steps back. But for a man who had the task of keeping wickets, bailing the team out of trouble with the bat and leading the side, Mahendra Singh Dhoni seems to have done a commendable job.

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