Somi Kohli, 66, still remembers the day he decided to sponsor a lanky cricketer from Ranchi on the insistence of one of his dealers, Paramjeet Singh. Although it took more than six months for Singh to convince Kohli, owner of cricket equipment manufacturing company ‘Beat All Sports’ (BAS) to send kits for the cricketer, it was the start of a 22-year-long association with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, former Indian captain and 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 World Cup winning captain. On Saturday, as Dhoni announced his retirement from international cricket, Somi remembered the day he first sent cricket kits for Dhoni.
“As a cricket manufacturing company, we are always on the lookout for new talent and our dealer Paramjeet Singh had been calling me consistently to tell about this young cricketer from Ranchi. After six months of him trying to convince me, I sent the kits to Mahendra Singh Dhoni in February, 1998, and it has been a 22-year-long association with him for us. When I got to know about his retirement yesterday, I could not believe it first and could not sleep for hours. He has been a gem of a cricketer and we are glad that we could also play a part in his journey so far,” said an emotional Kohli while speaking to The Indian Express from Jalandhar.
While Kohli’s association with Dhoni began in 1998, it was not till 2004 that he met the cricketer during the JP Atray Memorial cricket tournament at Chandigarh. The same year, Dhoni made his debut for India against Bangladesh at Chaattogram in December 2004 and visit Kohli at his factory in Jalandhar for bats before the India-Pak series in 2005.
Dhoni smashed a knock of 148 runs against Pakistan in the second ODI at Visakhapatnam and Kohli has an interesting story to tell about that knock. “While I used to talk with Dhoni since 1998 and would take his inputs about his choice of bats, I had never met him till 2004. In 2004, I first met him in Chandigarh and months later he came to Jalandhar to visit our factory. Sachin Tendulkar too talked with me that day and told me to give Dhoni good bats. We have been supporting players like Kapil Dev, Madan Lal, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sachin Tendulkar and that day, Dhoni stayed at my home. When I told my wife Manju Kohli, she asked, “Who is he?” The next day, when I met Dhoni, he told me he could not sleep for hours thinking about my wife’s words. Some months later, when he scored the century against Pakistan, Dhoni called us at 11 in the night and asked me if he could talk to my wife. He told her, ‘Auntie, main Dhoni.’ My wife told him, ‘Beta, now the whole world knows who Dhoni is.’ That was the bond we shared,” said Kohli.
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Post his debut for India, Dhoni would sign a contract for another company but Kohli has been sending his bats and equipment since long. Last year, prior to the 2019 World Cup in England, Dhoni had asked for BAS logos and according to Kohli, it was Dhoni’s way of thanking all the equipment companies which have supported him through his career.
“Unlike many cricketers, Dhoni always plays with an oval handle and his bats are bit heavy from the back. A bat is like the most important weapon in a cricketer’s arsenal and we always make sure that whatever the player requires, we are able to make. In 2009, I remember I was in Dhoni’s room when Sachin visited us and Dhoni and Yuvraj told me to first prepare a good bat for Sachin. Sachin went on to hit a century against Australia and later scored 200 against South Africa with the same bat. Last year, prior to the World Cup in England, Dhoni asked us for BAS logos in blue and it was his way to show gratitude. He could have earned crores with a deal but he wanted to show his gratitude. That makes him the Kohinoor of Indian cricket,” he said.
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