First published in 2011
It takes an extraordinary man to take up the will of his people, which is just as well for India as MS Dhoni has never pretended to be anything less.
For seven weeks the World Cup peppered along, sprinkling its stardust across the subcontinent. It moved Pakistan’s prime minister into a clinch with his Indian counterpart that reverberated around the world, and generally surprised us all, until only two teams remained.
India: predestined champions, propelled by her pleading public to do it for Sachin; and Sri Lanka, cocksure understudies, in thrall to their master’s whims (when India fancy a game, they call on Sri Lanka) but never diminished by talent.
To start with, we swayed to a century from Mahela Jayawardene of such grace that at half time, with Sri Lanka prettily placed on 274, it seemed unjust to even consider that he might end up on the losing side. But for all Mahela’s brilliance, the world was waiting only for Tendulkar. It wasn’t to be. After three beauteous boundaries, the round-arm tactics of Lasith Malinga forced a feathered edge, and the man, on 99 international tons, was gone for 18. The Mumbai crowd were split between those in tears and the few holding them back. All were united in their grief and silence. Such is India’s cricket.
The game had to go on. Dhoni promoted himself to No.5. It was time. Even when Gautam Gambhir was chiselling 97, it merely felt as if the stage was being cleared for the captain. Ever since he first emerged, a lank-haired starlet bringing brutish brio from the backwoods and new-world nerve, Dhoni has seemed even more in tune with the spirit of the times than the revered Sachin, holed up in his tower of runs.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) August 15, 2020
Here was a man who could tell Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly where to stand and not double up with guilt. Who could carry a billion hearts in his hand; a man who, with precious few runs in previous matches, could step up to smash, carve and plunder his team to the cusp of greatness while under inestimable pressure. Here, indeed, was the sort of man who, with four runs needed from 10 balls and himself 85 not out, could launch a six high into the hysterical sky to finish it once and for ever. Ganguly later said that Dhoni is without doubt the best captain India have ever had. Sachin concurred.
At some point between that winning hit and the next day’s victory parade, Dhoni decided to shave off all his hair, a statement which said: that’s done now; gone. But it also said something else. It said: what next then.
First published in 2011