SITUATED less than a 30-minute drive from Delhi’s international airport, the Airforce Sports Complex in Palam, on most days, resembles a sleepy fortress. The iron gates at the entrance have a signboard that warns: “Trespassers will be shot.”
The ground has in the past staged countless games without much fuss. On Wednesday afternoon, this venue sprang to life. There were cops marshalling the boundary line — to keep a tab on a sizeable group of fans — all perched on the top of the thin iron fence that form the outline of this ground. They were boisterous, and began to chant “Dhoni, Dhoni” in unison.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in the nick of the woods, and his presence had quietly woken this quaint, laid-back cricketing backwater from its slumber.
Not surprisingly, this motley bunch had queued up — some perched on the fence, others waiting outside the gates — just to catch a glimpse of their cricketing icon.
They aren’t from Delhi alone. Some have travelled all the way from Chennai. “We have been in Delhi for the last four days just to meet Dhoni bhaiya,” said Akash, who’s made the journey with his cousins.
They got their fill of the Jharkhand captain, who was in action against Vidarbha in the quarterfinals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
They were made to wait. In fact, there were doubts as to whether Dhoni would bat at all. Vidarbha had chosen to bat first. Jharkhand had to chase a paltry target of 160. The restlessness grew and the thin posse of cops who were marshalling the fence had a torrid time in containing the excitement.
The dour opening stand by Jharkhand openers — Pratyush Singh and Ishan Kishan only added to their frustration.
That would only be momentarily though as Vidarbha pegged Jharkhand somewhat with three quick wickets after the drinks interval. Ishank Jaggi, who walked in at No.5, got one of the most hostile receptions he could ever have imagined in a domestic game.
“Jaggi wapas jao aur Dhoni ko bulao,” shouted one from the crowd. The whole ground was drowned once again by that all-too-familiar chants of “Dhoni, Dhoni” once again. Every run scored by Jaggi was jeered at. The demise of Saurabh Tiwary, however, brought the smiles back.
The moment finally came in the 35th over of Jharkhand’s innings. Dhoni walked out of the dressing room in his inimitable style to a thunderous response. No sooner did he make his way onto the lush green turf, than he was greeted by a young fan who was barely in his teens.
The intruder failed in his mission, thanks to the timely intervention by one of the match officials. That was not all. Moments later, another intruder came running onto the centre-square, and fell on Dhoni’s feet.
By the time the match officials figured out what had happened, the youngster handed out a sheet of paper and a pen to Dhoni, asking him for an autograph. A visibly amused Jharkhand captain relented and the youngster dashed off with his prized possession.
In the end, it was only befitting that Dhoni would seal the deal with a huge six over mid-on. The semis berth secure, he calmly took off his gloves, and walked past the vociferous fans looking absolutely unruffled. After all, this was just another day at work for the former India captain.
Brief Scores: Vidarbha: 159/9 in 50 overs (Ganesh Satish 35, Ravi Jangid 62, Monu Kumar 2/27, Varun Aaron 1/27) lost to Jharkhand 165/4 in 45.1 overs (Ishan Kishan 35, Ishank Jaggi 41 not out; Ravikumar Thakur 2/25) by 6 wickets