There's a river that runs behind our house. It's a man-made stream but it is expansive and beautiful enough for me to lose myself watching the water flow, every day. It fills me with hope and sense of purpose that no pep talk can do for me. So does MS Dhoni every time he takes the field.
As we watch Indian cricket's greatest leader make everyone dance to his own unselfish, but highly focused tune one last time, I couldn't help but pen a few thoughts about a man who has filled me with hope and vistas of joy for over a decade, and almost always, held up his end of the bargain.
Writers with greater access than me will unearth stories about how he transformed the team, the players, even the system. But this is a man who most Indian cricket fans never met, but he still transformed their mental states for a few days every year. Year after year. There can be no bigger success than this.
I'm a Sachin fan through and through, but Dhoni has his own special place in my pantheon. It's difficult to admit, but he probably stands on the same pedestal as Sachin, in my book. This is not because of his grotesque technique. Not because of the helicopter shot. Not even because he won a few important trophies. It's because he filled us, the fans, with an unending hope that a match could be won, no matter how hapless the team's position or fancied the opposition.
For purists and cricket tragics like me, it isn't Dhoni's skills that make him so irresistible. It's his mind. His unmatched command of the situation; his ability to manipulate most situations to his advantage; but most importantly, the audacity with which he leads the most ordinary into slaying the most fancied. It's a trait few leaders possess, but one which a young Dhoni so magnificently articulates in his gripping biopic after the game during which a young Yuvraj made merry.
The mystery that the man has built around his persona is lamented by professional scribes. This opacity didn't help Dhoni's image during Srini-gate. Those who wished his reputation tarnished (and make no mistake, there were many such infidels) almost succeeded. But the thing about real heroes and true legends is that their reputations aren't built on performances or statistics, they are constructed with almost equal dollops of charisma, mystery and tenacity. Characteristics that real fans appreciate and naysayers never seem to imbibe.
It takes a man of unprecedented panache conjure as much respect for the near misses, as he does for his undisputed successes. MS's successor will do well to take every last opportunity to understand this from close quarters. I thank the heavens for allowing me the good fortune to witness MS flow free, if only for a few short moments more.