You are now 37, and in the last leg of your illustrious career. I still vividly remember that press conference after the World T20 in 2016. We had just lost the semifinals to the West Indies and an Australian journalist had asked you whether you were done with limited overs cricket. You gave a tongue in cheek reply to him and told him that you were keen to carry on till the 2019 World Cup.
All through the laughter that accompanied your reply that day, there was a sense of determination in your voice. There was a look of intent on your face, and the desire that you should do our country proud in the 2019 World Cup.
Now, we are almost there Mahi. The 2019 World Cup is just 87 days away. And, you are still fighting it out for our country. You are not the batsman you once were, the odd ball is hurrying you up, but still, we can sense it.
Our Mahi will give his all in the 2019 World Cup.
And, as we stand on the threshold, in the twilight of your remarkable career, my mind goes back to that ODI against Pakistan in 2004. You had a long mane at that time, the belligerence of youth was evident on your face, there was a twinkle in your eye, and your brisk walk to the crease was assuring.
It was a Dhoni who was absolutely carefree, a Dhoni who took flight, a Dhoni who intimidated the opposition in his own inimitable way.
You just pulverized the Pakistani bowling attack on your way to a belligerent 148. It was a knock that announced your arrival on the big stage. A knock that announced to the world that a star was born.
And then, came the 2007 World T20. Life gives everyone that one opportunity to showcase their potential to the world. And, I personally feel that it was the World T20 in 2007, that heralded the arrival of the Dhoni era. The senior players in the team including the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly skipped the tournament, and India, under a new leader entered the competition.
Two weeks later, history was scripted, as India became the champions of the inaugural edition.
But more importantly, we had unearthed a leader in you, a leader who would go on to change the face of Indian cricket over the next decade.
You taking over the reins as the captain was also the beginning of your second phase as a batsman. There was more responsibility on your shoulders now. You had metamorphosed from a tormentor into a mature finisher.
You were now taking the match deep - we all have lost a considerable amount of our nails because of you, chewing them in tension, while you took us to safety with zen-like calmness.
And then, came that final of the 2011 World Cup. That six you hit off Nuwan Kulasekara to seal the final, the way you stood still, and twirled the bat in your hand as the ball sailed into the crowd will be etched in the minds of each and every Indian cricket fan forever.
After that victory, it was not you, but Sachin Tendulkar who got the limelight. On that day, we witnessed another facet of you - a leader who was willing to relegate himself to the backstage in times of success, allowing his teammates to bask in the glory.
Then came that match against Pakistan in 2012. We were tottering at 29/5, and you came in and scored a stunning 113, and took us to a respectable 227. We lost the match alright, but if not for your century, we would have been annihilated.
And then Mahi, came that January morning in 2017 - when we came to know that you had quit captaincy.
It was shocking. Probably it took too much out of you, probably you had had enough - the countless press conferences, the oft-repeated questions about team composition. Probably you felt that it was the right time for Kohli to take over the reins of the side. It was odd, to not see the word ‘C’ next to your name from that day onwards.
But, the last one and a half years have made us see a totally different Dhoni- a Dhoni who has imposed limitations on himself, a Dhoni who now allows the situation to dictate his next move, a Dhoni who now looks battle worn. Your wicket is no longer the prized one it once was.
But then, Mahi, the 2019 World Cup awaits you. And, you will have to end your career the way you started it. Just let go of all the burden from your mind and tune out all the noise.
When you play with that sense of freedom, the sixes will start flowing again, the bowlers will once again start dreading your name, and that is the Dhoni we need for the World Cup.
Finally, I would just like to tell you one thing. Just go out there, and have fun. Because when you have fun, we have fun too.
From an ardent fan.