The announcement of Dhoni’s retirement from Test cricket has been a shock to many. As one of the most experienced cricketers in the Indian team and only 33 years old, many expected him to be around for longer. And yet, from what little we know about MSD, this decision would not have been made on a whim. He would have deliberated over it and then chosen the time when it felt right.
The post-announcement analyses have given us some plausible explanations. Dhoni got India to the top of the Test rankings (albeit for a brief period), but his Test leadership wasn’t as great as that in the shorter format of the game. He played in 90 tests and was a highly respected captain, but he could see how India’s overseas Test performance was consistently poor despite his efforts. He perhaps saw in Kohli—even though their personalities are poles apart—more hope than he saw in himself.
Kohli’s captaincy in the first Test can be criticised, but there is no doubt that it was the most entertaining Test so far in Australia. With eight months of no more Test cricket for India, Dhoni leaving now would give the Indian team time to regroup without him and think about how to improve.
So there are honourable reasons for Dhoni to leave now, but the analyses missed a grander point. If Dhoni was worried about not captaining well enough, he could have just given up the captaincy and stayed on as a wicket-keeper. After all, India doesn’t have a better Test keeper than him. But he didn’t; he retired from the format completely.
Here’s why: Test cricket isn’t what it used to be. Sure there are fans who revere this format more than any other, but that base has shrunk. Thanks to franchise cricket, such as the Indian Premier League, the shorter formats of the game enjoy more crowds, more money and thus more fame. The return on effort invested is far greater in those formats than in Test cricket.
I have immense respect for Dhoni, and I place him on a high moral pedestal. In a wonderful profile, Mark Nicholas wrote: “Dhoni is a thoughtful and intelligent person. He is driven by a deep morality.”
But a moral decision alone wouldn’t have brought the Test retirement this early. I reckon his decision involved the sharp perspective of a businessman. He is after all one of the richest sportspersons in the world.
That though should not be seen with contempt. His decision might not be in the best interests of the Indian team in the short-term. However, I feel it might do the team a service in the long-term.