There were times last summer, during the England v India test series, when I wondered whether MS Dhoni had lost it completely.
Times like when he stood back to the spinner, much to the utter befuddlement of almost everyone (including Nasser Hussain and Shane Warne on commentary) and, even worse, he barely even bothered to move to take some deliveries and fielding returns. It looked like he simply couldn’t be bothered to raise his arm to stop the ball.
Admittedly, he livened up again for the ODI series, as he often does. But it struck me, as he watched some more byes fly past with a total lack of concern on his face, that he had actually bought in to his public and media image of Captain Cool, and bought into it so much that he was now playing it cool, even when the situation demanded action. He had joined Chris Gayle in the ‘too cool to be seen to be making an effort’ gang.
The thumb injury that is keeping him out of the Sri Lanka ODIs and first test against Australia will give him – and India – time to take stock. India can now, perhaps, finally see a Dhoni-free future. For so long, he has been the glue holding the team together, the bridge between generations, the calmness around the impetuosity of the young bucks.
For many years, we have been astonished by the composure with which Dhoni greeted the vicissitudes of international cricket. Whether India has won emphatically or lost embarrassingly, his press conferences and interviews are measured affairs, his temperament – like his batting when he has an ODI to win – ice-cool.
This coolness has also always been apparent on the pitch. However, of late there has been something different about it. His calmness has become very studied, very deliberate. Martin Crowe’s excellent article on the masks we wear comes to mind – Dhoni has become his mask of coolness. His persona has overtaken his personality.
The danger is that his coolness no longer belies the fire inside but that it has extinguished it.
I’m glad he’s got a sore thumb. He needs a rest. He is still a remarkable cricketer and though the next generation is nearly ready to take the reins, India – and all cricket fans – are surely not done with him yet. Relieve some of his burden, let him remember his passion, let’s see the fire burn again.