Growing up in a sleepy educational city, Dhoni’s natural talent was more than obvious. But his was a different talent. (PTI photo)
Mahendra Singh Dhoni wasn’t the first cricketer to emerge from a cricketing backwater. There were others before him, like for instance Narendra Hirwani or say Mohammad Kaif. But none triggered the imagination or instilled self-belief to those from the unglamorous recesses of the country like Dhoni.
In more than one way, he is their man-to-be; a man who rose to the helm by the dint of his sheer, raw talent. To start with, his is a typical pastoral background. His father shifted from then Uttar Pradesh to Ranchi in search of a better living, as did a generation to various cities. A daily-wage electrician at the public sector engineering firm MECON was no fancy job, but it did sustain a family of five.
Growing up in a sleepy educational city, Dhoni’s natural talent was more than obvious. But his was a different talent. “He had an odd style of catching the ball – sometimes with a clap, you know? But then when he came to standard eight [about 14], he started hitting the ball. He already had the helicopter shot, that round of the bat, and the paddle sweep – he had learned these things playing tennis ball and tapeball cricket on the rough grounds. I never tried to change him – one thing I believe is in not renovating the natural talent," his coach Keshab Ranjam Bannerjee told the Express.
Had Dhoni been spotted in a cricketing hub, chances are that his innate, rugged potential would have been lost in the affected niceties of the Englishman’s game. But thankfully Banerjee himself didn’t refer the batting manual too often.
Thus evolved a form of batting so atypical of the Indian canon of batsmanship--all eye and allure. He is anything but that. He is wristy, but not as in deftly wristy like Gundappa Viswanath or VVS Laxman. Savagely wristy would more apt. His art, thus, is more rustic than refined.
Even behind the stumps, he is more efficient than electric, until he stands close-up to the stumps and affects those stumping of camera shutter-speed and precision—often only one-bail flicked off.
Adding pathos to his narrative, his route to the Indian team wasn’t through the long-beaten track. At 19, when his contemporaries had just returned with the junior World Cup, and just when the Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar, Dhoni moved across the West Bengal border to Kharagpur where he worked as a ticket collector at the train station, and played cricket for Railways.
Nothing then portended his looming greatness, before then India skipper Sourav Ganguly spotted him and offered him a spot in the Bengal Ranji team, which he refused. In another three years, he was playing for Team India. And without the backing of any zonal godfather. The rest of his journey needs no repeating.
Thus, for the multitudes of cricketing-playing youngsters of middle India, his was the template to be simulated, symbolic of their chores and travails, dreams and hopes. For them, his was their own story of the unheard, neglected India. That the silhouette of Dhoni will be flaming in the mind of every aspiring young cricketer of the expansive rural underbelly of the country is perhaps his greatest legacy to Indian cricket.
More than the ledger of victims, victories and the runs he would eventually end up with. It was as though if Dhoni wasn’t born, they had to invent him.