The captain of two World Cup-winning teams, an honorary lieutenant colonel with the Indian Territorial Army, and a qualified paratrooper!
Cricket icon Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s CV, if you may, stands apart.
Just like his love for the game, Dhoni has an enduring association with the Indian Armed Forces.
In 2015, four years after he was awarded the honorary rank in the Indian Territorial Army, he became a qualified paratrooper after completing five parachute training jumps from Indian Army aircraft in the Agra training camp.
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Beyond what is available for public consumption, Dhoni has stayed the course with the armed forces. Last year, after India’s World Cup ouster, as debates raged about his cricketing future, Dhoni spent three weeks at his battalion, the 106 Territorial Army Battalion (Para), in Jammu and Kashmir.
Indian Army veteran, Colonel Vembu Shankar, attests to Dhoni’s lasting ties with the armed forces.
Shankar, an avid collector of autographs, has known Dhoni for the last 13 years. Every time the two meet, they end up talking only about the armed forces. “I met him for the first time in 2007 as an autograph collector. In 2010, we were invited to a dinner, where we spoke only about the armed forces and there was not a word on cricket,” Shankar tells Sportstar .
Shankar, who has seen Dhoni interact with Indian army personnel, says, "I am fascinated by the way he can connect with the troops and boost their morale by sharing personal examples and experience. These qualities are rare to find outside the armed forces.”
While Shankar is not certain how Dhoni got attracted towards the armed forces, he knows that the cricketer’s interest in the field developed after he had an opportunity to train with the elite National Security Guard (NSG), where one of his friends was deputed. “The fascination with weapons technology and a general curiosity about machines made him crave a life in the armed forces,” says Shankar.
Dhoni’s knowledge about the armed forces impressed Shankar during their interactions. “During the paratrooper training, he had a training schedule similar to everyone else’s. His was even tougher because he would get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, and that went on till about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. In the evening, lieutenant colonel MS Dhoni was back as cricket captain and had to visit a lot of establishments, meeting people to boost their morale.”
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Everyone wanted to have a glimpse of the captain. “So, he had to do all those social obligations, too. He did all that with a smile on his face. The buddies he made during training are his friends for life,” says Shankar.
Having seen him from close quarters, Shankar also considers ‘Colonel Dhoni’ a true leader, in every sense. “Dhoni as a person, as a leader, has got so many qualities of an armed forces leader. The first and foremost is his compassion — he believes that the people who he leads should get the best facilities and comfort. The country comes first. I would rate Colonel MS as a true leader. The armed forces have a good officer in him. We will get to see him interacting more with the troops in the years to come,” says Shankar.
A few years ago, at a media conference, Dhoni was asked about his love for the armed forces. Being the Indian captain back then, Dhoni did not speak much on the issue, but revealed his respect for the armed forces.
That’s Dhoni going about his business, without making a noise.