No boundaries Nirmal Shekar

Dhoni — doing it his way

Dhoni defied the tyranny of the over-arching narrative, writes Nirmal Shekar  

In the end, there were no fireworks; no hopping on the shoulders of emotionally charged team-mates; not even a lap of honour around the hallowed MCG. No hint of moist eyes, no lingering goodbyes. No meditative explanations; not even a rueful smile and a wave of the hand from the pavilion.

In the end, as in the beginning, Indian cricket’s first rock star from the outback, a man who turned his sense of outsiderhood into celebrity chic —  Mahendra Singh Dhoni — did it his way.

The moment news came in that Dhoni has played his last Test match, Frank Sinatra’s unforgettable lyrics from ‘My Way’ gushed forth from deep down of one’s memory.

The iconic American singer/actor sang: “I’ve lived life to the full. I’ve travelled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.

“Regrets, I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do. And I saw it through without exemption.’’

Like Ol’ Blue Eyes, Dhoni was a bit of an enigma — which is like saying that the Mount Everest is a bit of a peak.

Everybody who has had anything to do with cricket in the last 10 years, everybody and his grandmother, too, loved to think that they knew all about Dhoni — which meant each of us knew all about what we thought we knew about Dhoni.

Add all that up, and mine the metadata for meaning, and we’d still be struggling to get to the core of the Dhoni psyche. And, oh boy, didn’t he love that!

“The mask eats the face,’’ wrote John Updike, on the cult of celebrity. In Dhoni’s case, it hid much, much more, leaving barely a trail to the depths of his soul.

Walking the tightrope

If it is every superstar’s dream to preserve a bit of himself from outside scrutiny, then in a land where cricket is a religion and the Test captain a demi-god, Dhoni masterfully walked the tightrope while contributing little to unravel his own mythology.

There is my Dhoni, there is your Dhoni, there is your cricket-mad uncle’s Dhoni and finally there is the expert commentators’ Dhoni. There might be a little bit of — perhaps even a lot of — overlap in all these perceptions.

But the single unified persona, the one simple story that captured the very essence of the man, the cricketer, the team leader and uber-celebrity, may have eluded the grasp of even the finest psychologist in the world.

“Do I contradict myself?’’ asked Walt Whitman. ``Very well, then I contradict myself, I am very large, I contain multitudes,’’ he said.

Like the celebrated American poet, essayist and journalist, Dhoni defied the tyranny of the over-arching narrative. And the over-powering aura of his charisma came in handy too as he hid behind its protective shield.

The irony is inescapable, for even the most cricket-apathetic person in the land would seem to have an opinion about the man from Ranchi.

But Dhoni was the master of the game, in more senses than one. He knew all about how to hold on to his true self-identity even while appearing to be sadly trapped in millions of narratives — none of them his own.

Great escape artist

In this, Indian cricket has seen no greater escape artist. He did all the running he had to do to stay precisely where he wanted to remain, beyond the sightscreen, beyond where even the most expensive, state-of-the-art binoculars could reach.

He exploded on our collective consciousness as a maverick small-town boy with a wide, lens-friendly grin, and then hit his wonderfully confident stride as a leader, possessed of a steely resolve but one not quite as bloody-minded as Sourav Ganguly’s.

The fairytale might have developed a few wrinkles along the way, but there can be no doubt that Dhoni played a hugely influential and transformative role as India’s captain.

He navigated his shortcomings, both as a wicket-keeper and as a batsman, with great audacity and preternatural calm while showcasing the best of what he could deliver on the big occasions.

Born for the big stage

Dhoni might have had his roots in the hidden heartland of this great, multi-hued nation, but make no mistake, he was born for the big stage. The bigger the stakes, the better he was, as cricketer, as captain.

His helicopter shot, his flavour-of-the-season hair-cuts, his fast bikes, his ability to finish games as few others could, his indefatigable spirit in the face of adversity…well, he did everything his way.

And now that he has played in his last Test match on the second most famous piece of real estate on planet cricket, the Dhoni mythology won’t need much burnishing.

But so long as he is still around playing limited overs cricket for the country, there is still the hope — however futile it might turn out to be in the end — that some day we might get to know the man a little bit better, that he would let us get that bit closer to who he really is.


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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 3:43:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/nirmal-shekar-column-on-dhoni-retirement/article6739244.ece

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