22 July 2019 05:07 PM

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VEDANT SHARMA | 2 JULY, 2019

MS Dhoni, the Ranchi Boy Who’s Probably Seen it All

Cricket just happened to MSD one fine day, when his school team was short a keeper


“I don’t think anyone knew Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I don’t think anyone was meant to,” said commentator Harsha Bhogle a few years back.

Fourteen years and a few months after Dhoni made his debut for Team India, the Ranchi boy has probably seen it all. Success like none other, Insane love from around the globe, Crunch moments, Abysmal depths.

The 22 yards gave MS what working in the railways never could. Glory days where he was heralded as a star from above, applauded for every milestone, never booed by fans in any part of the world.

It’s a ‘case’ that will certainly be studied for years after the gentleman retires. He has that enigma. He has that charm.

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In Ranchi the city of waterfalls, Dhoni dreamt and dreamt big. He was one of a kind. Playing cricket, badminton, football – Dhoni didn’t play to get famous.

He wasn’t consumed by any sport and he didn’t watch every game India played. He didn’t go to sleep with bat or gloves beside him, thinking he’d be the next Gavaskar or Tendulkar.

Cricket just happened to Dhoni one fine day, when his school team was short a keeper. Or was it destiny?

For a boy whose father worked to operate a pump, playing a sport like cricket which involves a lot of gear and space was expensive. For a father who knew what a government job can offer, to see his son getting into cricket at the cost of his education wasn’t easy.

But as soon as his ability to hit the ball hard, conventionally or otherwise, started to get noticed one thing became clear – Dhoni would make it to the big stage.

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MS Dhoni’s willingness to work aggressively and persevere helped him debut with India A in 2004, playing against Zimbabwe and Kenya. His success in the series, which was televised, led selectors to pick him for the upcoming series against Bangladesh.

His start on the international arena was as dramatic as you can imagine. In his first ever innings for India, he got run out.

Keeping that first innings aside, Dhoni in his initial days was much like Virender Sehwag. It was said he had the strength of a bodybuilder and the stamina of a farmer. At other times, thanks to his shoulder length hair streaked with blonde, he was compared to a Tarzan swinging wildly between the stumps.

To be called one of the Beatles, you need to be on the right side of the divide—the urban rich.

The adjectives they use for small-towners are unsophisticated. Dhoni was never clever, he was cunning; he never caressed the ball, always hammered it; he didn’t glide between the wickets, he scampered.

With time those sly opinions changed. The builder became a monk, and it was no overnight makeover. It took years to brush off the bias of the billions.

Almost single handed, Dhoni redefined India’s limited overs play. Again and again he handheld the team through minefields with the poise of a seasoned hostage negotiator. Calm began to spread throughout the country’s historically edgy cricket fandom. The mass fan following came straight from the textbook’s heart and nowhere else.

MS Dhoni has earned every single fan he has by now—not through money, but character.

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For the first World T20 tournament he was chosen to captain India only because three senior players – Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly – had all decided not to participate. The senior trio’s decision came to play a huge role in Dhoni’s career, but it also changed the outlines of Indian cricket. Before the world a leader was born.

India’s group match against archrivals Pakistan ended in a tie, so went into a bowl-out. Each team had to pick five bowlers to try and hit the stumps. Pakistan naturally chose the five men who had bowled against India. But Dhoni picked Sehwag and Robin Uthappa, although neither had bowled in the actual match, instead of Ajit Agarkar and S.Sreesanth. Both his picks hit the stumps. Yasir Arafat and Umar Gul missed. India won.

Already, then, Dhoni seemed to have a sixth sense for captaining in limited-overs cricket. And over the course of that fortnight, his team won India over to Twenty20. Nothing, after all, succeeds like success.

Even that World Cup final, which came down to the last over, saw what Dhoni has got in the tank. It was some decision to bowl Joginder Sharma ahead of Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan. Sharma, who would never play another game for India, bowled the most crucial deliveries. And that’s what made Dhoni so special. Had he asked Pathan to bowl, the gravity of the win wouldn’t have matched the current.

In the rest of his ten years as captain, Dhoni led India to victory in the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy. There were many more remarkable decisions along the way.

MS is the man who brought himself on to bowl for four overs in the Champions Trophy semifinal against Sri Lanka. The man who took off his gloves so he could better engineer a runout off the last ball beating Bangladesh in the World T20 last year. The man who promoted himself to number 5 during the World Cup final in Mumbai, though he had barely made a run all tournament long—and we all remember what followed.

And now, years later, as Dhoni plays his way into the side as wicketkeeper-batsman, on occasion guiding rookies like Virat Kohli, and remains exceptional behind the stumps, and still plays crucial knocks from time to time—still we get to hear, “Arey ye retire kyun nahi ho jaata” (Why don’t he retire?)

It reminds me of the saying, “Giving is a thankless job.”

A man who has probably given India everything, and has helped bring the team to a situation where it can think about another World Cup title, still has to put up with this?

If India hadn’t won the 2007, 2011 and 2013 ICC Championships, we as fans wouldn’t have backed them to win in 2019.

Dhoni turns 38 next week, and in the ongoing World Cup he still carries an average of 47 with a highest of 56 against the West Indies, striking the ball at close to 140 in the game against England, which is better than many others who have only just made it to the Indian team. Is it asking too much to say, just leave the man alone?

Dhoni is quite possibly playing his last World Cup for India. The titan will be a tired man with sore hands, and he will quietly walk into the sunset without making much noise.

Having ruled it for two decades, he will leave the field with memories to cherish, and the current generation of fans will have plenty of occasion to say, “Agar Dhoni hota toh jeet jaate” (If Dhoni had been there we’d have won).

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? The poet’s right. We don’t realise it yet but it will hit us pretty soon. When he’s played his last, MS will leave a yawning gap behind.

Let Dhoni be Dhoni. He deserves it.

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