Enigmatic cricket icon Mahendra Singh Dhoni on Saturday returned to competitive action after 437 days — a period that seemed an eternity to his fans — with an unusual beard that would be something between a goatee and full-grown one, and a new hairstyle.
He looked a little heavier, but his wicket-keeping was spot-on as he grabbed two catches and didnt concede a single bye in Mumbai Indians’ 162/9 in the IPL opener against Chennai Super Kings in Abu Dhabi.
And when the TV ran commercials between the overs, 39-year-old Dhoni made his presence felt in that space too. He seemed to be appearing in every second advertisement, for different products and in different looks — from endorsing mutual funds to a fantasy sports app.
Dhoni’s last competitive match was last year’s World Cup semi-final against New Zealand on July 9, and since then he has indulged in a variety of activities, even as speculation raged whether or not he would be picked for India again. Despite then national selection committee chairman MSK Prasad clarifying a few times that his panel was “looking ahead” and not ‘backwards’ (read Dhoni) vis-à-vis the India wicket-keeper’s slot, all kinds of speculation continued.
However, Dhoni seemed unperturbed by the tittle-tattle and kept posting photos and videos of his extracurricular activities. From posting a video of his cute little daughter Ziva playing guitar on a snow-capped hill on Instagram to commenting on Rafale aircraft on Twitter when they were inducted into the Indian Air Force this month.
Just for the uninitiated, Dhoni was given the honorary rank of a Lieutenant Colonel with the Indian Territorial Army in 2011, and he joined the 106 Territorial Army Battalion (Para) in Jammu and Kashmir in July last year while the Indian team toured the West Indies without him.
During his hiatus that ignited unending gossip and rumour, Dhoni brought a brand-new tractor and indulged in organised farming in his home town Ranchi, sporting a rugged look and a beard dyed jet-black.
Then, on August 15, when India celebrated its Independence Day, Dhoni liberated himself as he announced retirement from cricket – barring the IPL – and broke a billion hearts in the midst of Corona-enforced lockdown.
On Saturday, when he took the field for the CSK in Abu Dhabi, he was 39 years and 37 days. Will he play the 2021 IPL too? With Dhoni, you can never say never.