ICC World Cup: Why is MS Dhoni not part of the hype about India’s chances?

There has been hardly any word of encouragement, barring one cryptic exception, from the 2011 World Cup-winning captain

File photo of MS Dhoni the mentor, at a training session for India at the ICC T20 World Cup in Dubai, 2021 (photo: Getty Images)
File photo of MS Dhoni the mentor, at a training session for India at the ICC T20 World Cup in Dubai, 2021 (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The moment of reckoning has finally arrived for the men in blue as, in less than 48 hours, they take on New Zealand — their nemesis in the 2019 World Cup semi-finals — again in Mumbai. While several members of the 2011 squad which won the 50-over showpiece at home have gone full throttle about India’s chances, one person who has been conspicuously silent is the 2011 captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

But that is typical of the man — like it or lump it. While key members of the 'Class of 2011' like Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, or lesser lights like Piyush Chawla and S Sreesanth have all been playing TV pundits, ‘Captain Cool’ has stayed away from the hype. Sporting a new stylish hairdo, MSD is, however, very much visible in ads timed with the World Cup, reels showing him arriving at airport terminals with the aura of a movie star, et al.

The only occasion on which he spoke about India’s chances was nearly two weeks ago, after they made it six out of six against England in Lucknow. At an event titled Prabhav 2023, organised by one of his sponsors Rigi App, where he said, “Hamari team bahut strong hai… abhi humne ek ad campaign bhi kiya hai, so I don’t want to jinx it by saying anything more (our team is very strong…we just did an ad campaign)," in conversation with comedian Tanmay Bhat and influencer Sharan Hegde.

The iconic MS Dhoni six to finish off the 2011 World Cup final (photo: ESPNcricinfo/ Facebook)
The iconic MS Dhoni six to finish off the 2011 World Cup final (photo: ESPNcricinfo/ Facebook)

"Bhavnao ko samjho…it is a very good team…bahut achcha balance hai team kasab log achcha khel rahe hain…everything is looking very good…isse zyada mai kuch nahin bolunga, baki samajhdar ko ishaara kaafi hai…(please understand the sentiments…it is a very good team…has a very good balance…everyone is playing well…everything is looking good…I don’t want to say more than that…a hint is enough for the wise)," Dhoni also said.

More than four years have gone by since the nightmarish semi-final against New Zealand at Old Trafford, which incidentally was the master finisher’s last appearance in the blue jersey. The run-out of Dhoni, effected by a freakish throw from Martin Guptill from the deep, put paid to India’s hopes as they still needed around 25 runs from 10 balls. A situation from which the nation would bet him to take the team over the line 99 times out of 100, but sport — much like life — does not always guarantee fairytale endings.

‘’You know what, I had never dived in my life. So when I was going for my second run, the thought of the dive did come to my mind. I had never dived. I felt I could make it. If I had dived...’’ Dhoni had said in an interview four years ago.

If there was a sense of hurt, he chose not to show it. After keeping the nation on tenterhooks for more than a year, Dhoni ended it all with a cryptic Instagram message in 2020: "Consider me retired as an international cricketer."

Three years have elapsed since then, and the only time he was engaged with the Indian dressing room in between was as mentor for the 2021 T20 World Cup in Dubai. Had the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) wanted Dhoni to instil the winning mentality in Kohli & team, the ploy failed miserably, as India exited in the group stage itself.

Is this why Dhoni maintains a studied silence about Indian cricket these days? His only attachment with anything cricketing seems to be the IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings, where he is toying with the idea of extending his career as a player for one more season. And that too, after soaking in a countrywide curtain call during the 2023 season.

Not quite the personality who would believe in the cliché of Kohli or Rohit Sharma trying to ‘win it for him’, Dhoni would surely savour it if an in-form India can keep their date with the trophy. Perhaps he will wish them luck if they make it to the final, perhaps not.

MSD, as you know, always likes to keep 'em guessing.

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