(picture courtesy : Google images)

At first, the shoulder-length hair made more news than his unorthodox cricketing shots. But with captaincy, the long locks were gone (he did mention in an interview that he would soon revert to the previous hairdo on the request of his female fans – but it never happened, ladies). He almost went bald the next morning of the World Cup 2011 win. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has had his share of good and bad hair days.

Soon his hair began to grey, so did his beard. And people started saying things - this and that - more ‘that’ than ‘this’ – that he has lost his spark, that he is not the strength he once was. I was often around these armchair experts (they are everywhere), but I never weighed in with my opinions – MSD would have reacted the same way, I would tell myself.

For me, MSD has been more than a cricketer. And I cannot explain that.

The day when he scored 183 against I don’t remember whom, I had missed that match. But after that, his meteoric rise has been unmissable.

I don’t have an exact timeline in mind, but after the 2007 World Cup debacle, the Indian cricket scenario had to go through some serious soul-searching. The advent of T-20 cricket and IPL also brought a paradigm shift in the way the game was played. MSD was the exact ingredient Indian cricket was searching for- a wicket keeper batsman who promised us the ‘bang for the buck’. It was also assuring to see the lighthouse of Indian cricket being manned by two cool-headed, soft-spoken and smiling faces – coach Gary Kristen and captain MSD.

Then there were wins- many of them. World Cup, IPLs, a few seemingly impossible ones. But what makes Dhoni special is more than the wins and his performance on the field - it’s what he is made of.
How could a small town boy with humble beginnings remain unperturbed by the sudden fame and riches? How could someone be so equanimously posed in both victory and loss? Like someone had taken that Rudyard Kipling poem seriously- “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat both these imposters just the same… ”

The wins didn’t affect even a bit of his persona. A season of losses couldn't get his shoulders falling. He kept walking with his strong posture on and off the field – shoulders pulled back and head held not very high. He kept smiling with that calm demeanor. The press often assailed him with irking questions, but MSD always maintained his ground.

Dhoni is the man who has taught us to look for chances in hopeless situations; to stand with our heads held high even in the most shameful of losses. Because cricket emulates life in some sort – it has it ebbs and flows. But all that matters is that we give our best when we are in it - to play through the whole innings, to stay in the crease when wickets tumble and take the match deeper. Because miracles occur when you don’t give in.

I feel a tad emotional today, on learning that MSD has announced his retirement. But when I look back, I realize that there is so much I need to be thankful for. I have never learnt so much form a person, just by watching him on screen. Institutions come in different forms I guess.

Thank you Mr Dhoni.