From starting off as a long-haired, hard-hitting boy from Jharkhand with an unorthodox batting style to becoming one of the sport’s greatest minds and one of the most successful captains in its history, Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a career that few can compare to.
Sixteen years after making his debut, the former Indian skipper called it quits on his international career in a fashion as out-of-the-box as his captaincy. Over the years, Dhoni has played many roles; the leader, the anchor, the finisher, and his innate ability to dig deep and pull the team out of a rut is the stuff of folklore.
In honour of his glorious career, we take a look at some of his finest work on the field:
Dhoni delivers the dream
After a dismal campaign at the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, India decided to head to South Africa for the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup with a young side, filled to the brim with fresh faces and led by Dhoni, a player that was yet to cement his stature in the game.
But India delivered. Dhoni delivered. Against all odds, India eliminated the hosts, then beat Australia in the semis to set up a clash against eternal rivals Pakistan in the final. The match was one for the ages.
Batting first, Gambhir, with a clutch 75 off 54 balls, guided India to 157/5. India were cruising with the ball, as RP Singh and Irfan Pathan ran riot, reducing Pakistan to just 77-6.
But then, Misbah Ul-Haq brought Pakistan right back into the contest with a gritty knock and after Mohammad Asif caressed the ball for a boundary on the final delivery of the 19th over, the game hung in the balance, with Pakistan needing 13 off the final over and India needing just a wicket to win the World Cup.
Then came the moment. The first glimpse of the gambler. The first-ever sighting of Dhoni’s genius. With the experienced Harbhajan Singh still an option, Dhoni pinned his trust on rookie Joginder Sharma to deliver at the death. Two balls into the over, the decision seemed unwise.
Sharma bowled a wide, then a dot, before being clonked for a huge six, which reduced the equation to six runs off four balls. Dhoni though did not panic, he brought the fine leg fielder up, daring Misbah to try to scoop and the Pakistani did not hesitate but did not get the distance he had hoped for on his shot and ended up looping the ball for a simple catch for Sreesanth, who wobbled but held onto the ball for dear life, ending the contest and confirming India’s victory.
A euphoric moment for Indian cricket, masterminded by a rookie captain who would lead India for another decade.
‘Dhoni finishes it off in style’
With Sachin Tendulkar, Virendra Sehwag and Virat Kohli back in the dugout and India chasing a challenging total against the Sri Lankans in the biggest game of them all - the ICC Cricket World Cup final - Dhoni walked in to bat ahead of the Player of the Tournament Yuvraj Singh, raising eyebrows across the globe.
But, unbeknownst to the noise, the skipper batted assuredly, elegantly and with an aura of confidence that revitalised the crowd at the Wankhede that had lost hope after Tendulkar’s dismissal. Dhoni forged a partnership with Gambhir that broke the camel’s back and then took India home with Yuvraj Singh at the other end.
Not only did the skipper end India’s 28-year wait for the World Cup, but he also did it with a six that sent the nation into delirium and gave birth to an image that will forever be ingrained in the minds of every Indian.
Ahead of the curve
After losing their first game in horrific fashion against New Zealand at the 2016 ICC T20 World Cup in India, the hosts bounced back and defeated Pakistan to keep their hopes alive in the competition.
They next faced Bangladesh knowing that Australia had already won two of their first three fixtures and a victory over the Tigers will set up, what essentially would be, a quarter-final against the Kangaroos.
But batting first, India capitulated. They put up a modest 147 on the board which Bangladesh backed themselves to chase. The visitors were in the driving seat for 35 off the 40 overs in the contest, but two stunning overs from speedster Jasprit Bumrah kept the Indian hopes alive.
With Hardik Pandya and Suresh Raina the only bowling options available to Dhoni, the skipper did the most 'Dhoni' thing possible and tossed the ball to the inexperienced Pandya. Much like in 2007, it looked like a disastrous decision at the outset.
After giving up a single on the first ball, Pandya conceded two successive boundaries, leaving Bangladesh to just two to get off the final three balls of the contest. Surely no rabbit out of the hat this time? Think again.
A short delivery with the pace taken off got Mushfiqur Rahim, whose pull-shot went straight to deep midwicket and a mistimed shot on a low full-toss on the next delivery got rid of Mahmudullah. Suddenly, the equation read two to get off the final ball.
Will tail-ender Shuvagata Hom on strike, Dhoni put on his thinking hat. The skipper instructed Pandya to bowl a short delivery and stood behind with one glove off. Like he envisioned, Hom missed the delivery but Mustafizur Rahman took off from the non-striker’s end to score a bye.
Everyone widely expected Dhoni to throw the ball, but the skipper took off towards the stump, knocked them with his outstretched hands and ran the batsman out, helping India seal a famous one-run victory. Dhoni’s ingenious game plan worked to perfection like it had countless times before.
And yet again, the skipper proved that you can bludgeon him with the bat and you can bruise him with the ball, but his brain will still find a way to beat you on the field.
Au revoir, captain.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Prakash Singh