The challenge for writing a blog about modern cricketers is, you will not have any nostalgia to share. One, their sagas are still fresh in everyone’s memory and two, every moment of their life is captured in 24X7 video coverage, you may not have anything left to write about. Let me explain.
On a cold February morning in 1981 in Chennai (OK I understand you can’t say a cold day and Chennai – a kind of oxymoron – so let’s say pleasant morning in Chennai), I had to drop our neighbour’s son in school. I was confident that something great is going to happen in a place a million miles away in Australia. So I carried my pocket transistor with me. I dropped him, parked the bicycle under a tree, switched on the Radio and listened the commentary of the final overs and an emphatic series tying win against Australia. Kapil Dev (Happy Birthday Kapil Dev) who did not play the previous day due to some injury, took some painkillers and bowled the spell of his career and India won. Also the folklore, that, when GR Viswanath scored a century, India did either win or managed an honorable draw was kept alive.
Cut to August 1990, I was taking a trial in a paper mill in Balasore Odisha. This was before the advent of cable TV and I was carrying my faithful transistor with me. The boy genius who went on to become ‘the master blaster’ was scoring his first century helping India to avoid a certain defeat. The match was being played in Old Trafford, England and I caught up with every single delivery Tendulkar faced on a small transistor.
With Dhoni, things are bit different. He burst on to International cricket and Indian homes after India got 24X7 cable and satellite television. His every innings, every interview, every bike car acquisition was beamed live. It’s not the question did I watch it live, it is just the matter of where I watched – at home or a hotel room. We kind of watched his complete metamorphosis from flowing hair (T-20 world cup), to shaven head (after 2011 world cup) to his beard turning from black to salt and pepper to more silver kind.
But then, during his evolution, we also evolved. From switching off the idiot box once Sachin (Tendulkar) got out to ‘as long as Dhoni is there, we will win’ confidence. And most of the times he delivered, thus becoming the greatest finisher in One Day Matches. Sorry Michael Beven – you were dethroned.
Dhoni probably is more fortunate to become captain of a team which was developing this ‘can win – will win’ attitude instilled by Saurav Ganguly. But that was to come later. When he took the Indian Team to South Africa for the first T-20 world cup, he had some good players (not big stars yet) and many new ones. No one expected India to win. Maybe Dhoni had. It’s the same when Kapil went to England for the World Cup third edition in 1983. Kapil winning World Cup changed Cricket in India and Dhoni bagging the first T-20 cup changed our approach to T-20 cricket, paving way to the most lucrative IPL to be born.
We can’t even imagine the pressure he must have had before the 2011 world cup. After all we did not win one after 1983 and to add to his woes, the championship was happening in India. In one of the interview, Dhoni mentioned that for about 18 months prior to the WC, the only question he was asked was, ‘will we win the world cup?’ That he delivered when billion people were watching every moment, provides us with an insight on how mentally tough he is and the how did get the ‘captain cool’ tag.
He also became an heartthrob of people of Chennai when he became the captain of IPL Chennai franchise. Everywhere he goes, he is greeted with only one word, ‘Thalai’ meaning leader.
What I like more about the mega stars of Indian Cricket is, they serve as good role models to millions of young people in India and outside. They are very careful in what they say or do in public and players like Dhoni and Tendulkar fiercely protect their personal lives. Sangakara, the Sri Lankan legendary cricketer, once mentioned that, it is easy for him to go for a walk in the morning near his house in Colombo and have a cup of tea in a small shack. But when he tries to get out of his hotel room in Chennai he is mobbed. So we all can imagine the pressure our cricketers go through. With all the adulation he has received (he still is), Dhoni has kept his cool both on and off the field.
I had great hopes on Rahul Dravid as a Captain; unfortunately with one bad series, he gave up captaincy. But he proved me right serving now as an excellent coach to young cricketers. As far as Dhoni is concerned, given his extraordinary leadership qualities, I am sure he will play his second innings as a leader in the state and even at national level. Let’s raise a toast to one of our future leaders.
As I was writing this, I remembered that when the first T-20 world cup was being played in 2007, I was in Munich for the Octoberfest (Yes Naga – the festival is just for drinking beer). On the day of the final I was traveling from Munich to Heidelberg. We stopped enroute to visit a monastery where they also brew beer. When I was about to get into the bus, JK called me to say that we have won the final against Pakistan. So there is some nostalgia after all.
We will not be hearing the words during commentary, ‘As long as That Man Dhoni is at the crease, India can definitely win this match even from the situation they are in’ anymore. As long we were hearing them they gave us hope, excitement which culminated in unbridled joy. Take a bow Mr. Dhoni.
He has just announced his retirement through his Instagram post, Mukesh singing in the background, ‘Mein Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon’ – I’m a poet only for a moment or two.’ What great moments they are, which will playback in a loop in our memory, as long as we breathe.
Thank You Dhoni for the happy and lovely days of cricket you gave us. And all the very best to your new endeavours.