Long mane, blistering hitting: How Dhoni made a first impression 16 years ago

“On his day, he can slaughter any attack but his wicketkeeping is average,” Raju Mukherjee, who played a key role in spotting the wicketkeeper-batsman, wrote about the young cricketer then.

Raju Mukherjee, who was deputed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as a talent resource development officer, first came to know about the hard-hitting Dhoni from his colleague P. C. Poddar during a tournament in 2004.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

As M. S. Dhoni draws the curtains on his illustrious career, first-class cricketer Raju Mukherjee, who played a key role in spotting the wicketkeeper-batsman from Bihar during an East Zone one-day tournament, remembers how the cricketer with a long mane impressed him with his blistering performance 16 years ago.

Mukherjee, who was deputed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as a talent resource development officer, first came to know about the hard-hitting Dhoni from his colleague P. C. Poddar during a tournament in 2004.

“Poddar said he had never seen a man hitting the cricket ball so hard, but he was a terrible wicketkeeper. Poddar did not like his looks with long hair. ‘You will not like him,’ he said,” Mukherjee told Sportstar.

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“I said, ‘Let me have a look at him,’ and I went for the Bengal-Bihar match at the Keenan Stadium, Jamshedpur, the next day. Much before the start of the match, when I was talking to the Bihar coach, a man in a sleeveless shirt and long hair arrived on a bike. The next minute, I was surprised to see this man taking out biscuits to feed stray dogs,” said Mukherjee. “While batting, he scored about 30-40 runs, but some of hits were so forceful! One of those went out of the Keenan Stadium! I had never seen such powerful hits.”

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Later, Mukherjee and Poddar discussed Dhoni and recommended his name to the BCCI. “I wrote, ‘On his day, he (Dhoni) can slaughter any attack but his wicketkeeping is average,’” said Mukherjee.

Mukherjee said he defended Dhoni’s big-hitting skills when the then-chairman of selectors, Dilip Vengsarkar, called up to express his disappointment at his picking a player “who has not even scored a 50.” He nevertheless convinced Vengsarkar to give Dhoni a chance, and the Ranchi boy went on to prove himself on the biggest platform.

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‘Professional and fearless’

“I was the under-19 selector when he came on to the scene and I saw his rise. He was totally professional and fearless from that time. He remained the same throughout his career,” said Verma.

“It was a wise decision from Dhoni (to retire). It is difficult to say the reason. Maybe he was out of (touch with) cricket for a long time,” he added.

Ranjib Biswal, who wore many hats as a former India under-19 captain, selector, Indian Premier League (IPL) chairman and manager of the 2011 World Cup-winning Indian side, beautifully summed up his thoughts on Dhoni on Twitter: “Many successful stories, sweat and blood..... from dismay to crowning glory.... have seen it all. Will miss you in the cricket field MS..... you will always be India’s Captain Cool.”

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