An appreciation of M.S. Dhoni

I have had two cricketing heroes, both vastly different characters. As a teenager, Geoff Boycott became all-consuming and, probably as the sole fan of his at school, it taught me first how to protect a reputation. I hid in cupboards when he failed and was nearly run over along the Champs Elysees after reading that he had made a century in the West Indies.

Now, shall we politely say, in middle age, Boycott - who I still greatly admire - has given way to a man who has just announced his Test retirement: Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I have been lucky in that, back in the 1970s and 1980s, I relied on illicit radios at school to listen to Geoffrey's deeds and was a great fan of Test Match Special. I was lucky too being closer to this national institution than others: taught Latin by one of the summarisers, Vic Marks; the scorer to the most famous scorer of them all, Bill Frindall; three times as scorer for NatWest quarter-final matches at Lord's, The Oval and an awning at Blackpool. I am afraid, though, that this article is not generally what Test Match Special embodies. Impartiality.

At the end of March 2006, a good friend of mine, Rajesh Kumar, put me in a car in Delhi to take me to an event to facilitate the up-and-coming star of the Indian team, a chap who was making waves with his free-flowing strokes and hair. The event was laid on by Asia's largest magazine publisher, Competition Success Review, and, at the end of an astonishing six days, I was looking forward to having a nice easy time sitting next to and chatting to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. During the week, I had started off with Rajesh as a statistician at the Delhi ODI between India and England before appearing on NDTV with Navjot Singh Sidhu, Angus Fraser and the excellent anchor, Sonali Chander. Indescribably nervous, I had fared okay but this last event of the week was one where I expected to finally relax. Silly me. Rajesh essentially put me under house arrest as I was detailed to get on my feet and make a speech to honour Dhoni in front of several TV channels and an audience of between 150 to 200.

With little chance to fret, I actually did quite well although I was too tall for the immobile microphone so not many people heard my nice words. Anyway, it showed me what a polite and pleasant man Dhoni is and, every time since he has come to England, he has always stopped for a chat in the Lord's Long Room. The value of being an M.C.C member. I am well aware that, as the busiest international cricketer, such distractions as talking to fans must be trying and, whilst I have tried to time these chats to a time which is not as inconvenient to him, M.S. Dhoni has proved to be a thorough gentleman. He has never shown my stopping him to be a nuisance - in fact he has on more than one occasion stopped me to say hello - and has a wonderful way of making not only me but, I suspect, many others feel good about themselves. To be treated this way by the cricketer they say very few people really know has been a tremendous honour even if I cannot offer any further about him.

Personal feelings aside, Dhoni has proved himself to be not only a tremendous man but a phenomenal cricketer. There was a time when there was little chance of playing cricket for India for those outside Bombay but these days many more talented cricketers have been unearthed from states which have produced so few, if any, international cricketers. Dhoni was no exception and has put Bihar on to the cricketing map and, his home town, Ranchi, now has one of the most modern stadia in India. I suspect that he and his influence have done an awful lot of good for his town and state. When I went - and, okay, like others went to see the most important site that the city has to offer a cricket fan: Dhoni's impressive house - the first thing which jumped out at me was the Hotel Mahi. Dhoni's nickname.

For a youngster whose first love was football, cricket should be very grateful to the coach who turned the young Dhoni away from being a goalkeeper to the wicketkeeper and strokemaker who has dazzled crowds around the world. In India, all cricketers are admired but some become larger than life and Sachin and Dhoni are the most obvious examples. India has that ability to produce not only wonderfully graceful cricketers but also fine people off the field Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble and Dhoni immediately springing to mind.

Of course, there have been critics. Inevitably, this will happen and is probably more likely given the longevity of some of their careers. In Dhoni's case, some will suggest that his Test batting average of 38 could have been greater and that he might have made more runs outside India. ( And, yes, MS, I was disappointed when you got out in the 90s). Whilst, though, statistics are fun, surely we will remember Dhoni for his refreshing batting approach, at least in his early years. As his reputation escalated quickly and he became captain - something he has kept through thick and a bit of thin for over seven years in all formats: is not that itself a remarkable achievement? - he has calmed down. The flowing locks went, the attacking shots were replaced more by the needs of the team and the position as captain but he has shown how adaptable he is in all facets of the game and both on and off the field. I unashamedly say that he is the most impressive person.

Dhoni was known for his fresh approach to captaincy, examples including opening with a spinner to having a bowl himself. He almost claimed the wicket of Kevin Pietersen at Lord's, a referral being needed for the batsman to continue. There were times when Indian captains did not have a lengthy shelf life and, whilst this has changed, it is still fairly remarkable to keep the top job in all three formats as well as being a batsman/wicketkeeper. ( Not forgetting, of course, being captain of the highly-successful Chennai Super Kings in the IPL). Although his Test record as captain suffered as a result of poor results in England and Australia, Dhoni's overall record is more than decent alongside other Indian captains and, in 2014, he became only the second Indian captain to win at Lord's.

Thankfully for many of us, MSD will remain playing the one-day format. As probably the biggest one-day draw, we must hope that he has a few years longer in him. To me, it was remarkable that he managed to stay at the top and perform so remarkably well at all levels for so many years. Indian cricket should be very grateful for having such an exciting yet calm and dignified man at the helm. His legacy and standing may be better seen in Tests now that he has retired.

So, as the sun sets on an excellent Test career, who knows what Mahendra Singh Dhoni may yet achieve in the shorter format? Who can forget the way he came in earlier in the 2011 World Cup final and saw India win their "home" tournament - no easy job as records show - with an unbeaten 91 and, in the very apt title of a book brought out shortly afterwards, sealed with a six. If he can extend his playing days to one more visit to England and Lord's, I will be there but, if not, thank you, M.S. And also for being a statistician's delight.

M.S. DHONI's Test record
In India

Dhoni's Test Captaincy Record
In India

Notable Test Achievements
  • The most runs by an Indian Test captain (3454 average 40.64).
  • The highest score by an Indian captain ( 224 vs Australia at Chennai in 2013-14).
  • The said score is the highest score by any captain cum wicketkeeper and the third highest by any wicketkeeper.
  • The most Tests as Indian captain (60) with most wins (27).
  • The sixth most appearances as captain in Tests.
  • The most boundaries hit by an Indian captain (419).
  • The most sixes scored by any captain (51).
  • The most wicket-keeping dismissals by any international captain ( 187 catches and 24 stumpings).
  • The most wicket-keeping dismissals in a Test by any captain ( 9 in his last Test against Australia at Melbourne 2013-14).
  • The most runs by a wicketkeeper/captain ( 3454 average 40.64).
  • The fifth most wicket-keeping dismissals in Test history.
  • Joint-first most dismissals with Pakistan's Rashid Latif ( 6 ) in an innings by a wicketkeeper-captain.
  • The third-most runs by a wicket-keeper in Tests ( 4876 average 38.09).
  • The wicket-keeper with most Tests as captain.
  • Saw India to the No 1 Test side.
  • Holds the record for most consecutive wins by an Indian captain ( 6).
  • Became the first Indian player and fifth in total to score 10,000 international runs as captain. The others are Ricky Ponting, Allan Border, Stephen Fleming and Graeme Smith.