In the last 16 years, whenever former Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni played at Mohali’s IS Bindra PCA Stadium or at Chandigarh’s Sector 16 Stadium, donning the Indian colours, Mohali-based cricket fan Ram Babu (33) would be present at the stadium, cheering for Dhoni and the Indian team.
On Saturday, as the former Indian captain announced his retirement from international cricket, Babu delved into his photo album, going through his old pictures with Dhoni and remembering his meetings with the cricketer, including his visits to Dhoni’s home in Ranchi.
“Dhoni sir’s retirement from International cricket announcement on social media was like a shock to all his fans. Like other fans, I too had made preparations to cheer for him during the now postponed T-20 World Cup and thought to do the same in the T-20 World Cup next year. But his sudden decision means that he will not be playing in Indian colours anymore. We are not sure whether fans will be allowed to travel to Dubai for next month’s IPL but if we are allowed, I will be the loudest in the stadium,” shared Babu, who is often seen waving the Indian tri-colour, with his body painted with Dhoni’s name.
While Dhoni made his debut for India in Bangladesh in 2004, Babu first saw Dhoni a year later, during a match between India and Sri Lanka in Mohali. Although Babu did not see Dhoni bat in that match, over the next six years, the cricket fan traveled to several venues in India, just to watch Dhoni play. Babu traveled to Kolkata, Jaipur, Mumbai, Pune, among other cities, borrowing money from friends and family to watch the top-class wicketkeeper and batsman play.
It was in January 2013 that Babu got a chance to meet his idol on the field, for the first time, after the India-England ODI at Dharamshala. Since then, Babu has watched the Indian cricket team play the ICC T-20 World Cup in Sri Lanka in 2012 and in Bangladesh in 2014, when Dhoni arranged for Babu’s flight tickets to India after he got ill. “I would save money from my salary and borrow money from my friends to travel in buses or trains to watch him play. When I first met Dhoni sir at Dharamshala, I touched his feet but he stopped me and hugged me. When I was about to leave, Dhoni sir asked me to wear a sweater as I was just wearing a t-shirt and it was winters. During the 2014 T-20 World Cup, I had fallen ill during my travel to Bangladesh and Dhoni sir had arranged the return tickets for me and had also ensured that I got proper medical treatment in India,” says Babu.
Babu also lists his favourite knocks of Dhoni. “My favourite knock has to be the 91-run knock in the 2011 World Cup final. Apart from that, I cherish seeing him captaining India for the 200th time in ODI in Asia Cup in Dubai in 2018,” adds Babu.
Dhoni’s sixes at Sector 16 Stadium
Dhoni played five test matches, 10 ODIs and two T-20s in Mohali and one ODI at Sector 16 Stadium in Chandigarh. However, Dhoni’s knock of 109 runs in 75 balls for Jharkhand against Haryana in the Ranji Trophy plate group semi-final at Sector 16 Stadium in March 2005, is what is etched in the mind of coach Harish Sharma. “Dhoni had made his India debut in 2004, and when he scored a century for Jharkhand against Haryana on that day in 2005, it was batting of a different kind. The ball had to be changed multiple times as his sixes landed in the parking area of the stadium. After the match, he asked whether he will get to play for India for long and I told him that whoever has scored big at this stadium, plays for India for long- be it Kapil Dev or other famous cricketers. In 2007, when he smashed a fifty against Australia on this ground, he met me and remembered my words. We wish him all the success ahead,” Sharma says.
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