After the dual retirements of Dhoni and Raina, we caught up with former India pacer RP Singh - a close friend of the duo - and asked him about the careers of the two and more in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
As a common friend on and off the field of MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina, what are your thoughts on their retirements?
I know both of them very well. With Raina, I have played a lot of cricket since junior days. I had some ideas regarding MS’ retirement as I had recently spoken to him. He had said, ‘let’s see how IPL goes and then he will decide’. Unfortunately, for him, IPL kept getting delayed and T20 World Cup also got postponed. In a way, because of Covid 19, MS Dhoni suffered a big loss. At the back of his mind, there was this thought that he would play in the T20 world cup and then retire. The date of retirement was not decided but we all knew he was very much on the verge of retirement because of his age. As far as Raina’s retirement is concerned people are saying it is a little too early. I guess everyone has to think individually in terms of how physically fit one is, what chances of a comeback they have with regards to the Indian team. That must have played its part in Raina’s decision, because I can speak from a personal point of view, the day I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the Indian team, I decided to quit.
So the T20 World Cup postponement played a major role in Dhoni’s retirement?
Of course, it has. He has been a massive player in T20s so he wanted to wait until the big event. Besides that, age and fitness also contributed to his decision. If you leave aside IPL, he hardly got any opportunity to display his batting for India in ODIs for the last 12-15 months. In the 2019 World Cup, he may have wanted to bat at number 4 but that was not done because of team management and in the lower order, he barely got a chance until the semi-final game. Oddly, he also was not able to finish off games the way he used to earlier. Maybe that also gave him the signal that he was reaching his end and he needed to take a call on his future.
Did you find it strange that Dhoni didn’t get an opportunity to bat at 4 in ODIs despite enjoying tremendous support from the management?
If I am not wrong, MS himself had said in an interview that he wanted to bat at number 4 but maybe team thought there was none better than him to absorb the pressure in the late order. If you talk about history of the game, you will never get a player like Dhoni who has won so many matches from batting at that position. We have spoken about Bevan and all but MS was a completely different beast.
Describe your first encounter with MS Dhoni
First time we met was in domestic cricket in the Deodhar trophy. He had come since he wasn’t part of the playing XI for East Zone. Then, we met in a camp in Bangalore. But, I was aware of him because in UP and Bihar there used to be so many unofficial tournaments and he was already a big name when we met in Gwalior for the first time.
Any particular moment or match when you realized that now Dhoni is going to be in a different league.
For me, it was during the T20 World Cup final in 2007 that I got the sense he is a very special kind of a player. He was not the same Dhoni I have been interacting with. If you look closely, MS didn’t have any defining batting performance in that tournament but he was always there, almost in every match. In the final of the T20 World Cup, MS told me in advance that Kamran Akmal would be bowled as his feet were not moving. He asked me to forget about other things and just concentrate on bowling line and length. I realized that he had got a tremendous reading of batsmen because I would have bowled differently to Akmal. I had asked for a different fielding set-up. But, he convinced me in a way it was easier to follow.
Second incident is also from that same match regarding Mohammed Hafeez’s dismissal. He posted a fielder in between third and fourth slip. I told him that slip position is not right but he said it’s a floating position. You either have a 3rd slip or 4th slip because a slip fielder rarely jumps and gets the catch. However, MS told me that Hafeez’s release shot was his tendency to play at balls which go away. That was the moment when I thought his knowledge was incredible. He knew how to control the game. He never led Bihar or Jharkhand or India A but that hardly mattered. If you talk about the last over of Joginder Sharma, people say it was a fluke but it was in fact a strategic decision. He knew that he would require Sharma in the last five overs. He had that foresight to see what was going to happen.
Any favorite off-field memory with Dhoni?
He has always been a down to earth and very composed person. We used to complain that he never takes our calls. Once he told Munaf (Patel) and me, that, when he retires, he would pick up the phone in just half-a-ring. Now we will check if has really retired! (If he indeed takes the call in half-a-ring!) We always exploited his extra allowance which captains are entitled to! On a serious note, cricketers’ off-field interactions are not very different from ones on the field. We often end up talking about matches and players so it was fun with him.
Dhoni remains so cool on the field. Have you ever seen him getting angry?
So many times!
Any particular incident?
We were in Sri Lanka and Raina was coming too forward at cover while fielding and Dhoni was warning him not to come too close. Few deliveries later, Raina missed a ball and then Dhoni firmly told him to go back as he was instructing. He could be terse and firm when he wanted. Although he was never vocal or scream but he too used to get angry.
What is Dhoni’s theory on life?
He does see life from a different lens. He is a very reserved person and is happy with a limited circle of people. He has always loved the quarantine time! It hardly affects him because he would always stay indoors, stay in his own world, play video games etc. He has always been an introvert. He does not believe in having too many friends.
Has Raina's sudden decision to retire surprised you? Can he reverse his decision in the future?
Anything is possible! Who knows if he gets 1000 runs in IPL and then decides to continue again! But, when you take a decision to quit you think hard. Raina must have thought deeply about all the factors. Who knows he might explore overseas leagues like Yuvraj did in Canada. There is nothing wrong in that. But what surprised me was the suddenness of his decision. Just recently, he was saying that he wanted to make a comeback in Test cricket. I heard him saying that in his interaction with Irfan Pathan.
You have known Raina since he was a teenager. How would you describe his career?
We have been together since class IX. Perhaps, he didn’t fulfil his potential in Test cricket. He could have done 30 to 35 per cent better than what he achieved.
Any special memory with Raina?
It’s from our early days. I realized how a captain can be so crucial in a bowler’s life. He used to be my captain and always told me that he would ensure my five-wicket haul if I got a couple of top-order wickets. Because of that, I got many wickets in junior cricket and he played a fine part in my progress in those early days.