The “helicopter shot” has disappeared, the boundaries are not flowing from his bat and the whisper is now growing louder that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is no more the middle-order finisher who could single-handedly get India over the line.
Even for his ardent fans, and he is still the most popular player in the cricket-mad country, it was painful to watch Dhoni struggle in Sunday’s one-day series opener against South Africa.
Time and again, he tried the big shots that once came out of his blade with amazing regularity and time and again he could not connect.
Known for his penchant to seal victory with a six, exhibited famously in the final of the 2011 World Cup, Dhoni managed only one boundary in his 31-ball ordeal as the wheels came off India’s chase in the final overs in Kanpur.
Not that he did not try.
He stepped out against Morne Morkel, made room against Dale Steyn and ran hard between the wickets in the scorching heat, trying to do with the legs what his bat could not.
His laboured batting was all the more evident seen against centurion Rohit Sharma’s effortless strokemaking at the other end during their 55-run stand.
“Dhoni used to be great when the ball was pitched up to him,” former captain K. Srikkanth told Monday’s Times of India newspaper.
“But bowlers … have understood that the key is not to give him any room to manoeuvre and Dhoni would not be the same player (again).
“Dhoni can still be an accumulator but I don’t think we are going to see the same devastating MSD in the days to come.”
Going through a lean patch, Dhoni has also baffled many by wishing to bat higher in the order, having rejected the same suggestion for the large part of his career.
Former captain Anil Kumble is part of the fast-dwindling tribe still convinced that Dhoni remains India’s best “finisher”.
“I don’t think his role has changed. I don’t think he should be pushed at number four to play a different role. He is still a good finisher,” said Kumble.
“One hit (in Sunday’s match) and we would have been talking differently. His strike rate has obviously come down and the pitch did not help either.”
Dhoni also blamed the low-bounce at Green Park Stadium and rued how unforgiving the fans are.
“It’s not an easy job, it does not always work your way,” he said after the loss.
“It’s a gamble but of course that’s my job in the side. I’m somebody who has to finish the job for the team.
“When you finish a lot of many games, people always remember the ones you have not finished.”