Happy 34th Birthday to MS Dhoni, the born-to-be Indian captain


Ashish Maggo

Even as he faces a tough time as captain after the recent ODI loss to Bangladesh, there is something in us that tells us MS Dhoni will be back to claim his supremacy. He is that kind of man. Today is his 34th birthday. Here’s a birthday tribute to the born-to-be Indian captain, who was always ‘something different’.

There are cricketers who play for money. Then there are some who play for fame. Still, some others play the game because they want to make their parents proud. MS Dhoni is different. When he retires, Dhoni’s wife Sakshi demands that he puts her as at least the second most important thing in his life.

Right now, as the most successful Team India captain, all Dhoni values is playing for the country. Next on the list are his parents. Sakshi is third. For a man who loves his wife so much, a girl who he has been in a relationship with since childhood much before marrying her, this is a striking personality characteristic. It speaks volumes of the man’s selflessness, his devotion to his nation and to his team.

“He was always a confident boy. Not many words – if you asked him his name, he would say his name, and nothing else. In the classes he was quiet,” Dhoni’s childhood coach KR Banerjee, who had spotted Dhoni first while he was a goalkeeper for his Ranchi school team, told the Guardian in 2013. Had Banerjee not identified that Dhoni’s great diving skills could be utilised for the cricketing skill of wicket-keeping, India would have been deprived of a great leader.

During his school days, Dhoni played for the Commandos club and then some junior Bihar teams until Jharkhand, which was then part of Bihar, was granted separate statehood in October 2000. At that time, the Indian captain was 19. Dhoni then moved to Kharagpur in West Bengal, where he worked as a train ticket examiner at the local station, while playing for the Railways. One day as he smashed a century, a group of West Bengal scouts and Sourav Ganguly offered him that he play for West Bengal and shift to Kolkata. Dhoni, however, refused the offer, saying he would only play for Jharkhand.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 1.41.40 amFrom a middle-class background and playing in Ranchi as a young man to inspiring construction of a cricket ground of international standards in his hometown, Dhoni has come a long way. In between, as captain, he has won India the World Cup in 2011, the Champions Trophy in 2013 and the World T20 in 2007. As Test captain, Dhoni also took India to the No.1 spot in the team rankings, something that was hard to envisage a few years ago. India had never really been successful in the longest format, as is shown by its recent performances abroad.

Despite being ever humble and unbelievably calm under pressure, however, Dhoni does have swag. In India, being a style icon comes almost as naturally with playing cricket, as does tanned skin with exposure to sunlight. Dhoni’s love of bikes makes him strike a chord with young Indian supporters instantly, and they associate more with a small-town man who has big dreams. They associate with the rustic nomenclature of ‘Mahi’. But behind all this desire, there is a wonderful story.

Last year, Wisden published an interview of the Indian captain which he gave to Australian commentator Mark Nicholas staged as a casual dinner.

“I love them all, expensive, cheap, old and new. Yes, a Harley Fat Boy. A Ducati Pantah, a Hellcat – one of the confederate motorcycles from the US, some ancient two-strokes, Triumphs, even an old BSA,” said Dhoni.

And then came the inspiration behind it all. “I’ll tell you a story. When I was a boy, one of our senior players used to position his beautiful bike behind me and then hit balls at me to catch. If I missed one and it hit the bike, I had to fix up the mark. Therefore I learned not to miss many. I’ve either been polishing bikes or trying to cling on to catches pretty much ever since!”

But then again, Dhoni is also grounded. There are few famous personalities who don’t drink alcohol and there are few who don’t like to enjoy gourmet food along with the many other pleasures that come with money and fame.

“My wife wants me to eat fish, she says it is delicious. But I don’t like fish, so that is that. I find liquor has a bitter taste, so I don’t drink alcohol but understand that other people enjoy it. I care most about how people live their lives, what choices they make and how they get the best from themselves. This is why people such as Amitabh Bachchan (Indian actor), Sachin and Rahul are heroes of mine. And I love young talent, Ajinkya Rahane for instance, and urge him to be himself, to trust his talent and allow it to work for him within the parameters of his capabilities. He did that at Lord’s and the hundred he made was among the best I have seen by any Indian batsman,” Dhoni told Wisden in the interview.

The best virtue of the man, who is not short of good qualities by any sense, and the virtue that has made him the most successful Indian sportsman ever by far, however is his calm demeanour, something that is never seen before. It is the stuff of legends.

One of the greats of Indian cricket, Rahul Dravid, famously known as the ‘Wall’ agrees.

“I cannot speak highly enough of MS. He has a unique ability to ignore consequences and soak up pressure. This makes it easier for everyone else. When he took over the captaincy it was immediately obvious that he held the seniors in great respect but was not overawed by them. He is calm and measured. Win, lose, he can walk away. I don’t know many, if any, who can retain their perspective like he can.”

Here’s hoping Dhoni once again brings India back to its glory days. There is plenty of good cricket coming up including the 2016 T20 World Cup next year.