There was no trouble anywhere in sight when India boarded the flight to Jamaica with the Champions Trophy tucked under the arm. Moustaches were getting curvier at the edges and smiles turning into laughter. Nobody complained for being on the road. Fatigue? Who has that on a winning run! Feet up in the plush Business Class, India hoped to walk through the tri-nation series, until MS Dhoni got injured. Then, life changed.
Dhoni was the last man expected to miss a match, let alone a tournament, due to injury. But the energy-sapping Kingston humidity took its toll on the Indian skipper's hamstring that pulled Dhoni out of the series.
Still, the team's fortune was not expected to change as it did. Kohli captained through the West Indies innings for a one-wicket loss and then almost didn't turn up in the 161-run mauling against the Sri Lankans. Touted as the future India captain, Kohli was almost looking for Dhoni over the shoulder.
The last match and a half without Dhoni tells India (a) how valuable he is to the team as a skipper as well as a player and (b) how miserable life will become should the BCCI not plan for life after Dhoni.
Dhoni, 31, is arguably the fittest of cricketers around today and has seldom missed matches due to injury. The odd times when he didn't play was mostly either due to over-rate bans or when he himself opted to rest. And if you play all three formats, captain the team, are a match-winning batsman and the team's most ferocious hitter, have won every ICC Trophy and led the team to the top of ODI and Test rankings, then we are talking about a phenomenal workload, which - if not above - is certainly equal to the expectations Sachin Tendulkar has carried throughout his career.
But never has Dhoni's retirement been dreaded in the same manner as Tendulkar's. Have you ever heard or read anything like "it's difficult to see a team without Dhoni"? Chances are you haven't. Doesn't that apply to Dhoni as well? Absolutely. But are we planning for his departure as we did for VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar? Not really.
That leads to a number of pointed questions that the BCCI needs to prepare answers for, before Dhoni decides to quit. The most pointed of those is who will lead once Dhoni exits. The BCCI have always hesitated to name a vice captain in their stone-faced press releases, and though Kohli is being touted as Dhoni's successor, the same has never been even hinted by the Indian board. Perhaps they can take a cue from Cricket Australia, who officially designated Michael Clarke as Ricky Ponting's understudy.
But there are other questions as well.
1. Has the BCCI chalked out a succession plan?
2. Is there a backup wicketkeeper, who can bat as well as Dhoni, being groomed?
3. Shouldn't the Indian board name an official understudy for Dhoni the captain?
Note: Dhoni has played 344 internationals since his debut on December 23, 2004, which is the most by any cricketer in the world in that timeframe. During that period, Dhoni won India the ICC World Twenty20, Test mace, ICC World Cup and the ICC Champions Trophy.