Long before he made his debut for India in 2004, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was making waves in the domestic circuit of Indian cricket. Stories of the boy from Ranchi breaking window panes in the school building with his lofted sixes are now a part of cricketing folklore. But did you also know that his power-hitting ability even as a youngster was such that it could actually harm fielders — to be precise, break their fingers?
October 2002. The air in Kolkata, and eastern India, was abuzz with the annual Durga Puja festivities. But for a group of young boys for whom cricket was first love, a 15-member group from George Telegraph Sports Club making the trip to play a five-day first-division match against the Ranchi Cricket Academy (RCA) at the St. Xaviers School, Doranda in Ranchi, it was a time when they had a brush with greatness.
Unfortunately, torrential rain ruined the first four days of the contest. Finally, on day five as the weather cleared up, the management from both sides decided to have a shortened game of 20 overs (way before the T20 format had set in). The boys from the two teams took it upon themselves to dry the ground, putting the sand across the field to fill the puddles. Among these boys was a certain 20-year-old named MS Dhoni.
“The first time I heard Dhoni’s name was when I asked our captain who the wicket-keeper was in the opposition ranks,” recalled Siddharth Bhunia, the man who was behind the stumps for George Telegraph (GT) that day.
“He told me that there is a guy called Dhoni and asked me to get ready quickly because we would bat first,” Siddharth told the indianexpress.com.
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But what completely took the guys from George Telegraph by surprise was the sight of a keeper standing up to a pacer, that too without a cap or a helmet, in the first over itself.
“Murmurs began in our camp – who is this guy and what is he thinking!” said Siddharth.
“Mind you, after the heavy rain, conditions were quite wet and slippery. Ball one was a wide down the leg side and I thought it would be four byes. But not only did Dhoni gather it smoothly but also knocked off the stumps. It was quite astonishing, something none of us had never seen before,” he added.
Towards the end of the Geroge Telegraph innings, MSD even rolled his arm over and actually managed to pick up a wicket. The target was set and RCA needed 120 to win in 20 overs in difficult conditions.
“I remember him coming out to bat, wielding his bat like a mace – a BAS Vampire. Believe it or not, the first ball from Himadri (our opening seamer) was tonked for a six. What followed thereafter was a massacre. The batsman at the non-striker’s end only dealt in singles while Dhoni kept striking big,” recalled Siddharth.
In the third over, George Telegraph brought on their left-arm spinner (Nasir) to counter Dhoni. Again on his first ball, a flighted delivery, he hit it right back past the bowler’s head for another six. Now a reader might think what is the big deal in a big six? But the ground in Xavier’s was no small field. The ball crossed it, hit a building behind the field, and then came back bouncing into it. All that the opposition could do was just keep looking at each other.
Continuing to attack the spinner, Dhoni’s next hit was a cover drive along the ground but the fielder inside the ring, instead of attempting to save it, simply removed his hands and let the ball reach the boundary. “We abused the fielder a lot but to be honest he was scared. You can’t really blame him because all of us were simply stunned by what was happening. But still, our target was to get him out,” said Siddharth.
Within five overs, RCA’s score had raced to 65 and Dhoni had blazed to 45 in just 14 balls, before he was finally dismissed in the sixth over.
“Another left-arm-orthodox spinner (Mizanul Hossain) picked up Dhoni’s wicket with a short delivery that was hit towards mid-wicket but straight to the fielder,” said Siddharth.
But something was odd.
George Telegraph had bagged the prized wicket but the fielder who took the catch showed no reaction. In fact, he didn’t even celebrate, making the others wonder why was he so quiet. As the rest of the team ran across towards him, it became clear.
“I was numb with pain,” says Jayabrata Rakshit, the fielder who took the catch.
“I was standing at deep-mid wicket and the ball was right in front of my face within a fraction of a second. So I actually took the catch to save my face but the moment I did so, the little finger on my right hand twisted and broke. Dhoni’s hitting power was brutal enough to break my finger. It has still not recovered till date and I cannot straighten all my fingers on the right hand. I sometimes find it difficult to work even now,” said Rakshit, who is a chef.
1994 :: Young Cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni In School pic.twitter.com/trFs36Z0S4
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Strangely, after Dhoni’s dismissal, RCA suffered a dramatic collapse and were all out for 113, losing the match by seven runs. There were some post-match celebrations by the visiting team, but MSD was nowhere in sight. In typical Dhoni-esque style, he had taken his kit bag and zoomed off on his black motorbike.
Dhoni’s childhood coach Keshav Banerjee has an answer as to how Dhoni had so much power even as a 20-year-old.
“People don’t realize this but his family hails from Uttarkhand (Lawali, Almora). His father Pan Singh Dhoni left his village during 1970s after getting the job of pump operator in MECON ( Metallurgy and Engineering Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. ), a PSU based in the industrial city of Ranchi now the capital of Jharkhand state. So he has that pahari strength in his genes,” Banerjee told the indianexpress.com.
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