India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s sudden decision to quit test cricket caught the country’s media and former players by surprise, even though many felt his time at the top was over.
Dhoni’s retirement from the longer format on Tuesday soon after the drawn third test in Melbourne had handed Australia the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, was the lead front-page story in most newspapers.
But headlines like ‘Dhoni takes the highway, Mahi (Dhoni’s nickname) way’, ‘Dhoni drops a bomb’ and ‘Dhoni retires Dhoni style’ indicated how the media-wary skipper had managed to fool the usually alert press pack.
“Dhoni’s test career came to an end in the same way that he has often played his cricket – with a quirky, inscrutable move that seemed to defy logic and left eyebrows raised all around,” wrote the Times of India.
Former captain Sourav Ganguly, who is in Australia as a television commentator, also appeared stunned by Dhoni’s retirement before the final test had been played in Sydney.
“I am surprised by the decision in the middle of the series,” Ganguly wrote in the Hindustan Times. “Three tests are over and it was a question of one more. He could have finished it off.
“The decision to give up the captaincy was right, though I think the decision not to play test cricket is an incorrect one.”
The same paper said Dhoni may have created more trouble for the touring team even though he was “past his shelf life as captain”.
“Given his recent poor run, it is clear Dhoni is past his shelf life as captain,” the Hindustan Times wrote. “(But) by walking out at such a juncture, he has not solved a problem, but seems to have created one.
“Losing a player during the heat of battle can unsettle any team. Here, India have lost their commander-in-chief.”
Dhoni will continue to lead in limited-overs cricket starting with the defence of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand from February 14.
Former teammate Rahul Dravid called Dhoni an “inspiration”, saying he was a captain who led “more by example than by rhetoric or by words”.
“He was a captain I enjoyed playing under,” Dravid told the Cricinfo website. “One of the things I liked about MS was that what you saw was what you got. Very uncomplicated, always led by example.”
Dhoni finished as India’s most successful test captain with 27 wins in 60 matches, but not everyone was convinced he was the right man for the job.
Former test batsman Mohinder Amarnath, who was sacked as selector in 2012 after demanding that Dhoni be removed as test captain, said the player had taken the right decision.
“It was in the last two years that I felt that Dhoni was simply not doing enough justice to his talent and was not adding enough value to the test team,” Amarnath wrote in the Times of India.
“Gradually, his captaincy lost all flair and aggression, especially abroad.”