Age can turn ti­tans like Dhoni into a li­a­bil­ity

Once he was a swash­buck­ling hero but now his 37-year-old body is putting up all sorts of ob­sta­cles, writes Jim White

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

‘It has hap­pened be­fore, not least when Ten­dulkar was reck­oned un­drop­pable’

Watch­ing the end of In­dia’s in­nings against Eng­land in Sun­day’s Cricket World Cup match from the Sky com­men­tary box, Nasser Hus­sain was dumb­founded. Why was it that MS Dhoni was play­ing as if he had been stripped of any sense of ur­gency?

Sure, the task was a tough one. But in the past the im­pos­si­ble has rarely been an ob­struc­tion for Dhoni. Yet here he was, dib­bing and dab­bing, pad­ding and pad­dling, a woe­ful par­ody of the swash­buck­ling fig­ure we as­so­ciate with him.

Hus­sain asked his co-com­men­ta­tor, Sourav Gan­guly, if he could ex­plain what on earth was go­ing on. But as Dhoni prod­ded away a gen­tle cut­ter from Liam Plun­kett, the former In­dia cap­tain seemed as per­plexed as any­one about his suc­ces­sor’s be­hav­iour.

“I really have no idea why he just did that,” Gan­guly said as the ball

slunk apolo­get­i­cally from Dhoni’s once free-flow­ing bat.

In our house, we had plenty of the­o­ries. The con­spir­acy en­thu­si­asts present reck­oned the In­di­ans were de­lib­er­ately los­ing to en­sure Eng­land qual­i­fied ahead of Pak­istan. One lu­di­crous sug­ges­tion was that, with an In­dian de­feat hav­ing no con­se­quence in terms of their progress in the com­pe­ti­tion, this was a game ripe for match­fix­ing. Ob­vi­ously, that was not a re­motely plau­si­ble idea.

My own the­ory was that what we were see­ing at Edg­bas­ton was one of the most de­press­ing of all sport­ing in­evitabil­i­ties: the mo­ment when age turns a ti­tan into a li­a­bil­ity. Dhoni, once the liv­ing de­ity of In­dian cricket, a man who thrived on dif­fi­culty, who loved noth­ing more than snatch­ing vic­tory from the in­ter­nal diges­tive sys­tem of de­feat, has not made a one-day cen­tury since 2017. What he used to be able to do with­out a sec­ond thought, his soon-to-be 38-year-old body is putting up all sorts of ob­sta­cles to achiev­ing.

Yet clearly, as he stood out in the mid­dle at Edg­bas­ton, send­ing Kedar Jad­hav back to the other end in­stead of tak­ing a per­fectly runnable sin­gle, he was un­der the mis­guided be­lief that he – and he alone – could still in­flu­ence the re­sult.

In the re­cent past, the mid-in­nings as­sault of Ro­hit Sharma and Vi­rat Kohli would have pro­vided the per­fect plat­form for him to un­leash a smash-and­grab, to fin­ish things off in the glo­ri­ous man­ner fa­mil­iar to the great­est fin­isher of all time. His as­sump­tion that only he at the crease could de­liver vic­tory was burn­ing bright, even as he meekly sur­ren­dered to Eng­land’s bowl­ing.

It has hap­pened be­fore. Not least in In­dian cricket, where Sachin Ten­dulkar was reck­oned un­drop­pable long after or­di­nary mor­tals would have been dis­patched to the nets. Not that English cricket has been im­mune: Ian Botham’s pres­ence in the side stretched well be­yond his use­ful­ness. In foot­ball, too, John Terry and An­driy Shevchenko oc­cu­pied a Chelsea shirt past the point where they could de­liver any use­ful ser­vice, while Manch­ester United have re­cently brought in washed-up leg­ends like Bas­tian Sch­we­in­steiger, Radamel Fal­cao and Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic. And this when they al­ready had Wayne Rooney.

Ex­pe­ri­ence is a golden force in sport, but rep­u­ta­tion can be de­struc­tive. Which brings us back to the unas­sail­able Dhoni, a man who does not look as if the gym is an ex­ten­sive part of his prepar­a­tive regime. It was his in­evitable de­cline that was writ large on the Edg­bas­ton turf. At least we can only hope that is the case: any of the other ex­pla­na­tions of­fered up are surely un­think­able.

Fallen gi­ant: In­dia’s MS Dhoni is strug­gling, where once he would have thrived

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