In IPL10, never mind the young upstarts, attention will be on Mahendra Singh Dhoni – he is the player to watch out for. Until recently, MSD was Indian cricket's don, boss and shehanshah. But suddenly, the king has become a commoner.
This democratic upheaval was partly his own creation because he abdicated Indian cricket's throne by resigning from captaincy. Then, in a surprising downgrade, the Rising Pune Supergiant rudely stripped him of similar privileges in the IPL by appointing Steve Smith captain. It was a move reminiscent of withdrawal of privy purses of princely states in Independent India.
Naturally, the questions will arise and his every move, every gesture, every expression on his rugged face will be decoded.
How is MSD going to cope?
Will the deposed king lapse into a massive sulk and appear disinterested, disconnected, dysfunctional?
Chances are, none of the above. MSD is too hardcore a professional to be distracted and allow his focus to waver. It is likely he will accept the situation with grace, take the stumble in his stride and maintain his customary swagger.
Entitlement was never part of Dhoni’s DNA. He wore his celebrity with ease and in the reverent eyes of fans, was the common man’s hero like Kapil Dev. A self-confident man, he knows any reduction of power, whether real or perceived, does not diminish him in any way.
During his long reign, Don Dhoni led India with dignity and statesman-like poise. Power sat comfortably on his shoulders and did not go to his head or upset his balance.
Contrast this with what is regulation behaviour for most other cricket royalty. Dhoni is not the brash, in-your-face, pushy player desperate to make a mark. Nor is he that attention-seeking hero promoting himself, reduced to a sorry media-hungry hound.
Dhoni is also far from the short tempered, foul-mouthed warrior slaying opponents with vicious, verbal bouncers.
Born different, Dhoni appears to belong to a bygone era and carries a visiting card of classic cool. His aura is built on maintaining distance, privacy and mystery.
While others may choose to play salesman or news reporter (broadcasting live Twitter updates about themselves), Dhoni keeps his counsel. While others spread themselves across every available platform, social or otherwise, Dhoni has held back and stayed just outside the frame.
He guards his privacy as fiercely as his wicket and getting a sound byte out of him (or getting him on the phone!) is a tough ask. Forget about being invited home, Dhoni is so private he won't allow a glimpse of what is inside .
After years at the top, Dhoni the superstar knows his best is past and his achievements are in record books for all to see and admire. Realistically, there are no new mountains for him to climb, nothing more to prove to fans or himself. In the army, something that fascinates Dhoni, Field Marshals are for life but in cricket’s changing hierarchy he stands demoted, brought down a rank.
So, what could possibly drive him this IPL?
Could it be the desire to prove a point to others? Or is it inner pride of a supreme professional nudging him to compete and succeed at the top level one more time?
Who knows whether Dhoni, the king of cool, is affected by the winds of change swirling around him. But as IPL 10 unfolds, he will do what he has done best – ignore the noise and clutter, erase all frills to concentrate on his essentials.
Which is why in IPL 10, watch out for Dhoni – he is the master of this game.
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