MS Dhoni was a 26 year-old long-haired beast of a cricketer when I first started following the game in 2007. He was almost instantly a favorite of mine. He looked and played like no cricketer I thought existed. For the next 13 years I watched him captain India all over the world. With the pinnacle being — for me, and probably for most — the World Cup win in 2011. To lead India, in India, across the finish line under such intense pressure is one of the greatest accomplishments I have seen in all of sport. That team was packed to the gunwales with some of the best cricketers the world has ever seen — or might ever see again — and he calmly and collectedly guided their ship into harbor. It was a must win moment for Dhoni and his teammates, and he delivered.
Like so many of the cricketers I “grew up” with since 2007, Dhoni was always just there. You watch India playing an ODI and Dhoni is there. Over the years he slowed down, and came under fire, but he was still MS Dhoni, still the general on the field for his home country, dashing in blue, leading them across finish lines over and over again. When Dhoni approached the wicket with his bat you knew that everything was going to be okay for India. Even as he aged, even as this became no longer the case every single time, you forgot about that for a little bit every time he put his helmet on and entered the breach. Only five feet, 10 inches tall but looking like a giant among boys.
As a kid, all my favorite baseball players were catchers. Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk. And so it would follow that in cricket I would keep my eyes on the wicketkeepers. And Dhoni was simply the best there was. Sure, there were the 10,000 ODI runs, and sure there was the brilliant captaincy, but watching his demeanor with the gloves on was always a joy for me.
I have always thought that once you reach a certain age, having a favorite player becomes a little juvenile. But maybe life is too short for silly rules like that. MS Dhoni — along with cricketers like Cook, Amla and Malinga — is one of my favorite athletes. Whether he is wearing white, blue or yellow, I love watching him play cricket.
His influence on cricket in India, and cricket the world over, has been immense, and it will be long lasting. He was a giant of the game, and cast a long shadow, a shadow that will linger for generations of cricket to come.
Last week my company told us all that we would be working from home until at least March of next year.
My last day in the office was Wednesday, March 11. This was the day it all felt like it was coming apart, that the pandemic wasn’t just a flu-like phantom like SARS or H1N1. Or even like Ebola breakouts which are horrifying but on the other side of the world. March 11 was the day the NBA cancelled their season. It was the day Tom Hanks announced that he was positive.
In the mid-afternoon that day I told my boss that I would be working from home indefinitely. The anxiety of the situation was too much for me. Home was safe, a controlled environment. I might be okay there. I packed up my computer and that was it, thinking I would be back in a week or two, maybe a month. I haven’t been back since. Later that day the company sent everybody home indefinitely. Overnight 700 employees — including reporters filing audio stories — were remote.
In the time since then, the company has experienced an enormous amount of change. Shows were cancelled. 19 people took buyouts, another 28 were laid off, and several more were simply “exited.” Someday this will all be over, and I will go back into the office, but it won’t be the same office I left that Wednesday afternoon in March. Joe, the director in the office across from my cube, was one of those laid off. My boss, Bridget, took a buyout. Brandon, Sladjana, Angie: all gone, and those are just the people on my floor, in my little area. I will go into the office again, but it won’t be the same, just like everything else.
Yesterday MS Dhoni announced his retirement from international cricket. We all knew it was coming sooner rather than later. The talk was that he would hang on for the World T20s later this year but once those were delayed we knew the inevitable was now truly inevitable. And so when it came we were ready, but it was still a shock, a stark reminder that despite the fires, the world is still spinning, time is still marching along. People may have slowed down, but the world has not.
And it was yet another reminder that when this all ends, when we emerge from the shadows and head back into the light, that nothing will be as we left it. Things will not return to normal, there is no normal any longer. Cricket will one day come back to something like it was before COVID. There were be tournaments and full houses and players will be allowed to once again go home between games. But it won’t be the same.
Yes, Dhoni was on his way out before the pandemic, but we were supposed to be treated to one last look, and he was to receive the send off he deserved. But now, just like so many other things, that was taken from him, from all of us. To say it is sad would be true, but it’s also more than that. It’s the melancholic emotion of watching time pass us by; we reach out for it but it slips through our fingers. And with it so much that we have missed out on, and so many people whose presence we will mourn the loss of once we reach the far shore.
Dhoni was a giant. He changed cricket forever. His retirement is a shock wave. A reminder of our new normal, of that while there might be another side to all of this, that other side won’t look like it did before. It will be very different. When we go outside again, all that we will see will be change. We have sheltered in place, but the world has moved on without us. And when we do catch up with it all will be different.
And when cricket comes back, like everything else, it won’t be the same, for so many reasons, but mostly because it will be missing its captain.