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#Dhoni: The One Who Played Pied-Piper Restoring Trust of Fans in Indian Cricket

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By Sidharth Mishra

Soon after India won the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, a hoarding went up outside Ranchi airport. It said, ‘welcome to the city of world cup winning captain’. Mahendra Singh Dhoni belongs to Ranchi, a city that was not known as a cricketing destination till this boy with long golden locks from the HEC Colony broke onto the national scene. His locks and helicopter shots mesmerised no less than Pakistan’s martial law administrator Parvez Musharraf, who once famously said that he would not ‘cede even an inch’ to make India happy.

Musharraf’s appreciation of Dhoni, however, left millions living east of the Wagah border proud. By December 30, 2014 when Mahendra Singh Dhoni decided to retire from test cricket, Ranchi had become a cricketing pilgrimage, next only to the vintage Eden Gardens of Kolkata in East Zone. He used his resources and network to get the better of no less than Tatas, who controlled cricket in undivided Bihar and then Jharkhand from their industrial capital at Jamshedpur. The Jharkhand Cricket Association has now named the Southern stand of the stadium at Ranchi as MS Dhoni Stand.

It's a matter of man's worth that he survived the rough and tumble of international cricket for another six years, before he decided to quit all formats of international cricket. The suddenness and the timing of the decision has been similar to the one taken six years ago. The English language media has hailed Dhoni’s decision to retire without a fuss as a representation of his enigmatic personality.

Enigmatic personality indeed! Soon after India lost the 2019 world cup after Dhoni’s run out in what proved to be his last international innings, those habitual of baying for blood sought the pleasure of his head rolling. He did not give them the pleasure they sought and instead went back to his job as the officer in the Territorial Army, training with the troops.

If the small-town boy from a lower middle-class family decided to remain aloof from the glamour and glitz that courted him, considering that he once held the second most important job in the country, the decision was not meant to be an enigmatic one. It only showcased his temperament to remain focused on the work at hand. He built his dream home in Ranchi, drove his Hummer and superbikes on the roads of the town he loved and married a middle-class girl after an “unnoticed by media” courtship at another small town, Dehradun, away from the metropolitan pizazz. No wonder, under him, a bunch of ‘aam cricketers’ blossomed into Team India.

Boys from Meerut, Kanpur and Ghaziabad, away from the known cricketing Meccas of Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru made their way into the team. True to his roots, he did not forget to honour his mentor Saurav Ganguly. Dhoni invited the Prince of Kolkata to lead the team in the last session of his last test. Only an enigmatic Dhoni could have done it. As the luck would have it Ganguly today is the captain of the Indian cricket establishment as the President of the Board of Cricket Control in India.

When he was handed the reins of Team India in 2007 for the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup, he was leading a cricket team which for more than a decade had leaned on the broad shoulders of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. And when this team left the shores, none of the three were part of it. Moreover, this trip was coming soon after the disastrous ICC World Cup earlier in the year. I call it disastrous not just for the reasons that both India and Pakistan bowed out in the league stage but their loss led to the loss of people watching cricket. Not just that the television ratings dipped but also the trust of the fans sank.

Credibility was had hit rock-bottom, like what we had winessed about a decade agao following the match-fixing scandal and it took the leadership of a chrismatic Ganguly to revive the fortunes of the Indian cricket. So here was Dhoni beginning his now legendary career as Captain Cool. India went on to win the 2007 ICC T20 World Cup which had a firm frame of an inconsequential Jogender Sharma being handed the last over and bowler from Haryana having the revenge for his state senior Chetan Sharma, who was clobbered for a six on the last ball by Javed Miandad in Sharjah many seasons ago.

The victory in the T20 World Cup revived crowd interest in the game especially in the new format and it proved to be the perfect launch pad for the cash-rich Indian Premier League the following year. There has been no stopping Dhoni ever since winning the T20 World Cup in the autumn of 2007 as he went on to lead India to victories in the 2011 ICC World Cup (50-overs) and 2013 ICC Champions Trophy, and also notching up the top position for the test cricket team.

As Dhoni’s teammate and a respected rival Gautam Gambhir has said, “None can equal his record as the captain of a national team.” Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the small-town boy who took Indian Cricket to magnificent heights in every form of game, will remain a legend. He revived confidence of not just his teammates but also the fans and the followers of Indian cricket.

(The writer is a cricket follower and unabashed fan of Mahendra Singh Dhoni)

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