Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not the same player he was when he burst onto the scene in 2005; far from it. In this time, he has managed to explore and redefine the boundaries of his self-admittedly limited technique.
Dhoni 1.0 was Dhoni with the long hair. 183 against Sri Lanka. Hooking Shoaib Akhtar off his nose for six. Holing out on 92 at the Oval, trying to get to his hundred in boundaries. Some wish that we had never lost this Dhoni, even with everything we gained from his maturation. He was a romantic, unbridled figure of a completely unique ilk.
The second iteration of Dhoni emerged after the 2007 T20 World Cup win. The long hair was gone, and one of the best one-day cricketers to play the game began his glory period. Before Virat Kohli became the patron saint of the ODI chase, MS Dhoni broke it down to a science, as he remained defiantly, inevitably not out, victorious match after match. His calculative captaincy may have fallen short in away Test tours, but at home and in the one-day arena it was unparalleled in terms of the results he delivered. The 2011 World Cup finish was a fitting bow on a great legacy.
Seven years have passed since then, and even though he remains firmly ahead of his wicket-keeping peers, his decline has been widely observed. His ability to control the run rate has seemed to crumble, and his unorthodox technique began to appear an impediment to the point where he has at times looked unfit for the standards of international cricket. Many have called for him to move to No. 4 in the batting lineup, and cruise through the innings in support of India’s superlative top-order at an easy strike rate of around 80. His peak finishing days have seemed behind him.
This IPL, Dhoni has found another gear. He has hit out with an efficiency and brutality that hadn’t been seen anywhere on the big stage since he last found his stride. Yes, especially in his innings last night, he has hardly been tested by the pedigree of the opposition bowling. But for someone who many have written off as a shadow of his former self, there was an unmistakable glimmer of something new in his game. There was one six last night- carved over backward point off Mohammed Siraj- which hinted to me that Dhoni may now have reached a fourth form. That wasn’t a shot that he has played with any regularity, even in his golden period. There was a whiff of the original Dhoni there, all hand-eye coordination and a passion and knack for the blitzkrieg.
Dhoni could be bumped up to No. 4 leading up to and for the World Cup, and he will do a damn good job at the position. But it would be an anticlimactic and unfitting end to his career. Unburdened now by the captaincy, perhaps Dhoni has now done the necessary assessment and we may see the Dhoni of nostalgia. There is no better way for a cricketer or indeed any sportsman to finish, by reminding us off why we fell in love with them in the first place.