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Sunday, November 28, 2021

MS Dhoni… the untold stories

The former India skipper through the eyes of those who have seen him from close quarters in his hometown.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Ranchi |
Updated: July 7, 2020 11:58:58 am
MS Dhoni arrives to a rousing reception in his hometown Ranchi, where India play Australia on Friday. (PTI) MS Dhoni arrives to a rousing reception in his hometown Ranchi, where India play Australia on Friday. (PTI)

MS Dhoni has retooled his game in such an effective manner that he’s still made himself relevant. But he cannot keep raging against the dying light, and keep playing forever. The third ODI between India and Australia in Ranchi on Friday could well be his hometown swansong. Ahead of the match, here’s an attempt to unravel Dhoni through the eyes of those who saw him from close quarters.

The polite ‘refusal’

The south pavilion of the JSCA International Stadium here has been named after Ranchi’s most famous son. The ‘M.S. Dhoni Pavilion’ looks resplendent under lights. The north pavilion, by the way, has been named after former state association president and the current BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary.

READ | Dhoni declines invitation to inaugurate the ‘Dhoni Pavilion’ in hometown

Last year, the Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) had unanimously approved the christening, which came into effect 15 days ago. “We proposed that Mahi should inaugurate the pavilion named after him. He simply told me, ‘If I have to open it, then my feeling is that I’m not part of the stadium or the JSCA. Hum jab iske part hai, toh hum kaise open kar sakte hai (when I’m a part of it, how can I open it)? I’m thankful that Jharkhand has a cricket stadium which carries my name’,” JSCA secretary Debashis Chakraborty said on Wednesday.

WATCH: All eyes on MS Dhoni as Team India arrive in Ranchi

The state association decided to do away with the opening ceremony, notwithstanding the fact that the third ODI would be the first match at the venue after the ‘name-giving’.

Vizag: India’s MS Dhoni during the first T20 international cricket match between India and Australia at the Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA–VDCA Cricket Stadium in Vizag, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (PTI Photo/R Senthil Kumar)(PTI2_24_2019_000203B)

The hard taskmaster

The JSCA secretary narrated another story. The Jharkhand Ranji team had a three-month pre-season camp last term. Dhoni, whenever he was in Ranchi, used to drop in at 6.30am.

READ | Dhoni running away from a fan triggers meme fest online

“He personally monitored the players’ yo-yo tests. Mahi took the register book and monitored the whole process for close to four-and-a-half hours. Those who weren’t up to the mark, he gave them 15 days to get better, fitness-wise,” Chakraborty recounted.

Did the JSCA request him to play Ranji Trophy? “In his case, it’s the other way round. When he intends to play domestic cricket, he approaches us with the request, if he can fit in,” the JSCA secretary had a hearty laugh.

Hyderabad: Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni during a practice session ahead of their first One Day International (ODI) series cricket match against Australia at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, in Hyderabad, Friday, March 1, 2019. (PTI Photo/R Senthil Kumar)(PTI3_1_2019_000119B)

The selfie expert

Another state association member spoke about how once Dhoni had corrected the selfie camera position of a young boy, who had gingerly stepped into the JSCA gym to take a selfie with the icon. “Selfie bhi lena nahi aata. Aise lete hai selfie…(You don’t know to take selfie. Is this the way to take selfie?)” Dhoni had given the kid a first-hand demo and a mini berating.

India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni bats during the first one day international cricket match between India and Australia, in Hyderabad, India, Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

We don’t need no show-offs

Chanchal Dattagupta, a former first-class cricketer and the JSCA academy head, once asked Dhoni how he kept his cool, when, for example, a fielder dropped a catch, with the batting team in the middle of a game-changing partnership? Pat came the reply: “Who is the worst sufferer, when someone drops a catch? The fielder himself… If I hit out at him, he might lose confidence, jeopardising the next opportunity that would come his way. Whatever I say, I prefer to keep in the confinement of the dressing room. Spectators know that he who goes out to toss is the captain of the side. No further show-off is required…”

Poor balance, failing hand-eye coordination hurting MS Dhoni Dhoni made 29 off 37 balls. (AP Photo)

Dhoni, the curator

Rules prohibit curators to come on record. But ask any groundsman about Dhoni, and there would be an outpouring of love and reverence. A senior member of the ground staff told this paper how Dhoni advised the state association to have nine more pitches at the practice oval, bringing in soil from Maharashtra and Odisha.

READ | The Ranchi boy who became a phenomenon

He insisted on having green pitches, where the academy kids would train. “After this match, we will start working on having those nine more pitches at the ground and the practice oval with different types of soils,” the JSCA secretary informed.

New Zealand’s Colin Munro bats and is fielded by India’s wicketkeeper MS Dhoni during their twenty/20 cricket international at Seddon Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/David Rowland)

Ranchi or Karachi?

According to Chakraborty, during the early phase of Dhoni’s career, many overseas fans used to confuse Ranchi with Karachi, something that made the wicketkeeper-batsman a little upset. “Now, nobody gets confused. Dhoni has put Ranchi on the world cricket map,” Chakraborty oozed pride.

India tour of New Zealand 2019 MS Dhoni enjoying India’s win over New Zealand.

Fairway and sharp shooting

Former off-spinner V Venkatram had Dhoni under his charge when he was the Jharkhand Ranji coach. He told a golfing tale. “When I was the coach, after practice we used to (occasionally) go for golf. I used to play golf a little bit. Mahi didn’t have any previous experience. But the first shot he hit, the ball landed on the fairway. It was down to his hand-eye coordination and the power of observation. I once accompanied him to Fort William (in Kolkata) and got amazed at his shooting skills. Please ask him, how did he master such shooting accuracy? He is indeed godsend.”

Dhoni three half-centuries in three matches to be adjudged Man of the Series. (Source: BCCI Twitter)

Epilogue

In Ranchi, it hasn’t sunk in yet that Friday’s match could well be Dhoni’s last bow in his hometown . Although he remains an integral part of India’s World Cup set-up, who knows what would happen after it. Dhoni’s hitting abilities are on the wane and given that he has a mind of his own, a surprise departure a la the 2014 Test series in Australia can’t be ruled out.

The locals here, however, are seemingly not too concerned about the future. They are stuck in the present. It would be a full house on Friday, and to paraphrase Ravi Shastri, fans want to enjoy while it lasts.

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