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Free Hit

We need to talk about MS Dhoni's hair

Is this the first time ever he's not quite managed to pull a look off?

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Who wore it better? Probably not the guy on the right  •  AFP/Getty Images

Who wore it better? Probably not the guy on the right  •  AFP/Getty Images

This is the first post in a new blog, Free Hit, that will feature random thoughts, observations and reflections from ESPNcricinfo's writers.
I'm sorry, but two weeks into the IPL and someone's got to say it. More than the two bouncers, or the booing of Hardik, or Kohli's strike rate, I'm just not sure that MS Dhoni's new hairstyle is working.
The only plus I see is that he's not gone full mullet, like Mitch Marsh or Adam Zampa, who leave the impression not so much of a style statement as of an exercise in postmodern irony. Hair as a prank, except we're not sure if they are the pranked or the prankster.
But it is mullet-adjacent. More Mel Gibson circa Lethal Weapon 3. Late-Wham George Michael. Like he'd fit stood between Wasim Akram and Salim Jaffer in the Pakistan team picture from the 1987 tour of England. Big hair rather than mere mullet.
The Dhoni Hairstyle has been an underserved genre over the years, especially as it has become a key pre-IPL ritual. Will he play this season or won't he? Will he lead this season or won't he? Will he win the IPL this season or won't he? What new hairstyle will he unveil this season?
This season's hair arrived at the IPL with more fanfare than most players do, trailer-ed as his return-to-action-do as long ago as October, when celebrity stylist Aalim Hakim revealed the look online. The hair has become bigger since. The salt and pepper gone, the highlights in. It takes him over an hour these days to get it ready.
This is what is most interesting about the hair, and why it doesn't work: the elaborateness of it. It sits incongruously with the image of Dhoni, especially latter-day MS, the ultimate ascetic cricketer, batting and keeping pared right down to only the things that secure wins, with hair that requires minimal maintenance. He pulled off looks without trying too hard.
It's also interesting - in that mid-life-crisis-y kind of way - that he's gone back to growing it long for the first time since he burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s. That was a different long - flattened and straightened, with red tints. It was as much a signal as the way he batted, though, that we were dealing with a slightly different species: the first India team he played in was stuffed with legends, but with all due respect, they had zero interesting hair between them.
It went soon after he won the 2007 T20 World Cup, although the real death knell was the moment the late Pervez Musharraf expressed his admiration for it. How cool can you really be if a military dictator likes your hair?
Dhoni has remained a style icon since: the mohawk, the faux hawk, the no-hawk, the jarhead, the normcore side-part, the fade. He's pulled it off as well. Until, perhaps, now.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo