Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s was more than a team, it was an empire. Retirement from Tests is his way of relinquishing far away outposts whose tending was becoming more of an irritant.
In his golden era, he had under his command, the Generals, each an ambassador to these outposts. With their fading, the rules of engagement changed.
How many Waterloos can an Emperor survive?
Far too many if the homeland is secure and the coffers are overflowing. The return of the colonisers, however, changed that in 2013. The homeland was breached. Two more Generals were on the wane.
The desire to make Generals out of trusted lieutenants was deep; Emperor himself was a foot-soldier, one who had risen through the ranks, from quick combats to command his men in the Five Day Wars.
One such lieutenant, Suresh Kumar Raina, lasted 17 Wars (2010-2012). A master in swift-combat and home battles, he failed to score four times in his last four wars. Only to return in 2015, and fail to score yet again.
Recruited for the Australian sidelines, his moment in the sun was a selfie with the partly-retiring Emperor.
Another lieutenant, Ravindrasinh Anirudhsinh Jadeja, lasted 12 Wars (2012-2014). A chieftain at home, and the go-to man for a skirmish, foreign lands exposed his travel weary spirit.
A burgeoning Rajputana moustache and beard couldn't hide the boy within, he claimed to have been bullied in the Isles – but there were no videos from the aisles. Both he and his Emperor were demeaned.
As too in the case of Rudra Pratap Singh, a holidaying lieutenant in far away sands, who was rushed to prove his allegiance – 14 Wars in more than 5 years with well over 3 years between the last 2. Yet he was there.
Then there was the Talented Lieutenant in waiting, Rohit Gurunath Sharma, after many stop-and-start battles (126, 2007-2014), he fought his first war at home. But once away, he missed home way too much to put up a fight. Stop-and-start wars followed, 9 in over a year, often picked to be discarded. To be picked yet again.
More than a lieutenant but treated no less than a foot-soldier was he, Ravichandran Ashwin – from the Emperor's right hand man at home, he was left out in the cold. 23 Wars (2011-2014) the fastest to 100 skulls for his Lord; he only served in 8 wars overseas.
Was he more than a lieutenant, had he an independent mind? Was he more a general? Or with his skills, even an ambassador, dare I say, a King?
But none of these even came close to the man from the North, Yuvraj Singh. Well before the Emperor's time but a mere 40 wars (2003-2012), won the biggest battles but still not proven in war. There was a lesson in his failures, one that wasn't applied in recruiting fresh lieutenants.
Beyond them there was an insider who was an exception; Murali Vijay lost most of his scattered battles (only 14, 2010-2014) but went on to win some wars, especially the later ones which were far less scattered (30, 2008-2014). Even though he was no longer a lieutenant, he owed much to the Emperor's persistence with him.
There were others, not yet lieutenants but trusted stable boys, Mohit Mahipal Sharma, Ishwar Chand Pandey – who walked with the Emperor in those midsummer night skirmishes at home. Will they ever fight a war now?
And so the Emperor becomes a mere wallflower for the time being. But not before he suggests that one of his erstwhile foreign generals, Michael Edward Killeen Hussey shepherd the army.
His erstwhile army is now under the command of a new general, Virat Kohli.
The army will fight under two commands.
Under the Emperor will be most of his trusted old lieutenants. As with their leader, they too will return to a combat they yearn for.
King Kohli will command two quiet men, both without rank – one who shone in last year’s wars, Ajinkya Madhukar Rahane, the other, Cheteshwar Arvind Pujara, the years’ before. Neither are the Emperor’s men. Both prove themselves in a long apprenticeship before they could fight alongside him.
As for the Emperor, a few weeks away before he returns on 18th January to lead his lieutenants again.
He’s won enough battles and lost enough wars to sit back and ask himself at leisure – would he pick Subedar Kannaur Lokesh Rahul and Major Manoj Kumar Tiwary to fight his battles? No? Then why ask all those lieutenants to fight his wars?
Skirmishes = IPL/T20
Battles = ODIs, T20I
Wars = Tests
Lieutenants = CSK / Limited Overs’ Players
Generals = SRT, RD, VVS, VS, GG, ZKEmperor = MSD