14 years of MS Dhoni: World T20, World Cup and other conquests

MS Dhoni hit a six to complete India's chase in the World Cup final against Sri Lanka in 2011 (Reuters Photo)

After a few years of waiting in the wings, MS Dhoni’s international career began in Chittagong, a few months after he blasted a couple of centuries for India A in Nairobi in 2004.

If not coming from any powerhouse of Indian cricket made him the odd one out, the long hair, which would go on to become a big talking point, made the world, let alone the Indian cricket fraternity take note of him.

For all that he has achieved in world cricket now, MS Dhoni’s international debut wasn’t the ideal start. The wicketkeeper-batsman from Ranchi was dismissed for naught in his ODI debut against Bangladesh.

Dhoni takes center stage in India-Pakistan clash

MS Dhoni failed to impress in his maiden ODI series but it seemed he was waiting for the perfect stage to make a mark at the highest level. In April 2005, Dhoni was the biggest talking point of Indian cricket as he had played a bulldozing inning against arch-rivals Pakistan.

With 15 boundaries and four sixes in a 123-ball 148, Dhoni announced his arrival at the big stage. There was no stopping the fearless and unorthodox ticket inspector-turned cricketer from Ranchi as he went on to become a household name. Runs, adulation, sponsorship and, of course, his stature in the team, everything just kept growing with time.

Dhoni slowly established himself as one of the best finishers in the game. With his big-hitting skills and quick reflexes behind the wicket, Dhoni took very little time to establish himself as one of the mainstays in the team.

Dhoni wins India World T20 on captaincy debut

MS Dhoni helped India win the World T20 in 2007 in his maiden assignment as captain of the senior national team (India Today Photo)

Dhoni is regarded as one of the best captains in limited-overs cricket but his introduction to captaincy was by chance. Still reeling from the memories of an embarrassing early exit at the World Cup, India were gearing up for the inaugural edition of World T20 in 2007.

Back then, Twenty20 was still an unknown format and Indian fans didn’t expect much from a team that had gone to South Africa under a new captain and without the likes of Tendulkar.

The stage was set for Dhoni to showcase why he would be considered one of the astute readers of the game. The Ranchi hero led a young team with a strong conviction and an unconventional style that took the cricketing fraternity by storm.

Preferring newbie Joginder Sharma over an experienced Harbhajan Singh in the last over of the famous final against Pakistan and backing his bowler even after he was clobbered in the first few balls remains one of the iconic moments in the history of Indian cricket.

Dhoni takes India to Test pinnacle

Dhoni had to wait for one more year to take over from Anil Kumble as the Test captain. Just like the limited-overs, Dhoni found instant success in the longest format of the game, taking India to the top spot in the ICC Test rankings for the first time. The Asian giants remained No. 1 for 18 months from December 2009.

Dhoni helps India end 28-year-long World Cup drought

MS Dhoni’s unbeaten 91 helped India beat Sri Lanka in the final of World Cup 2011 (Reuters Photo)

Dhoni’s career graph was on an upward trajectory and it only skyrocketed in 2011 after the Cricket World Cup at home. India were considered favourites but history wasn’t in favour of them as no host nation, until then, had won the World Cup.

India needed Dhoni’s game awareness and calmness at the World Cup. While he failed to produce spark with the bat for the most part of India’s campaign, his biggest and most memorable knock came in the final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai.

Chasing 275, India had lost Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag — two of their most consistent batsmen in the tournament — early. Just when Sri Lanka were looking to put more pressure on the hosts, Dhoni promoted himself above an in-form Yuvraj Singh and took the attack to the Sri Lankans. With his inimitable style, Dhoni sealed the World Cup and ended India’s 28-year-long wait with an iconic six.

India, under Dhoni, fail overseas

Dhoni endured the worst phase of his captaincy career right after the highest point of it. India, under him, were blanked in overseas tours of England and Australia in the 2011-12 season. To add to India’s woes, England clinched a historic win in India, beating a Dhoni-led side 2-1.

The defeats paved way for the exit of a few senior pros, including Rahul Dravid. Dhoni marked the beginning of a new era in Indian cricket by helping India whitewash Australia at home in 2013.

However, winning overseas became a rarity as the skipper’s tactics failed him in the longer format. Timing it perfectly, Dhoni made an unforeseen retirement announcement midway during India’s tour of Australia in 2014-15.

Dhoni was still finding plenty of success in the limited-over formats. India battled against the odds and won the Champions Trophy in England in 2013 under him. The famous win also helped Dhoni become the first captain to win all three ICC limited-overs trophies — World T20, World Cup, and the Champions Trophy.

Dhoni is Chennai’s adopted son as well, thanks to his popularity as captain of Indian Premier League’s joint-most successful team, Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Dhoni’s leadership skills shone in the shortest format of the game and it propelled CSK to become one of the most consistent teams.

Dhoni’s swansong in the Old Blighty?

After 14 years of cricket at the highest level, Dhoni is certainly in the twilight of his career. There is pressure on the former captain as his performances in the 50-over format have been far from impressive in the recent past.

Youngster Rishabh Pant’s eye-catching performances is only adding to that pressure. However, Dhoni still remains the first-choice starter for the Cricket World Cup in 2019.

Sunil Gavaskar, speaking recently at Agenda Aaj Tak, had said he imagined Dhoni hitting the winning six off Mohammad Amir in the final of next year’s showpiece event in England. Wouldn’t that be a fitting finale to one of the glorious chapters of Indian cricket?