M. S. Dhoni, the idli-sambar addict and an expert barbecue cook

Mahendra Singh Dhoni also loves filter coffee, cherry and mango, reveals Dr. R. N. Baba, the former media manager of the Indian cricket team.

M. S. Dhoni and R. N. Baba busy making barbecue during their trip to Kangaroo Island in 2015. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

For M. S. Dhoni, Dr R. N. Baba isn’t just the former media manager of the Indian national cricket team. Although officially his designation allowed Baba to only handle the side’s press communications between 2012 and 2015, off the books, he still doubles up as the Ranchi rockstar’s barbeque pal, hiking partner, PUBG team-mate, easy target at paintball ranges, but above all, a close friend.

Perhaps that was the reason Dhoni decided to only confide in Baba with his retirement plan from Tests about 30 minutes ahead of his last press conference at Melbourne on December 30, 2014.

“He didn’t inform anyone about his retirement but me,” Baba tells Sportstar.

“We went to the press conference and he asked me not to reveal anything then. Once the presser was over, we came to the dressing room and I called all the players. Then he stood up on a stool and told everyone that he was going to retire. He was a bit emotional and also gave a minute-long speech,” says Baba.

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The announcement, which was made via a BCCI press release shortly after, also said Virat Kohli was to take over for the final Test of the series, which India had already lost, at Sydney. “He (Dhoni) was still with us (in Sydney) and so we decided to take a team photo with him in it. He was very hesitant saying it wasn’t right since he had already retired but I requested saying he was still a part of the squad. He somehow finally obliged but decided to sit at the very end of the row,” Baba continued.

During Tests at lunch, one chicken burger and coke would be mandatory for him. Nothing less or more. He hardly visited the gym: maybe only once in 10 days. Now, however, he has changed a lot.

Dhoni, one of India’s most disciplined athletes, on rest days, is a different person altogether. “He never used to get up on time except on match days. I used to get idli and sambar delivered to his room. Those two South Indian cuisines were his favourites and he craved for the same almost every morning when I was with the team. He also loves filter coffee, cherry and mango. On days we had practice or matches, however, he would always be up before time. He never missed the bus and even on optional practice days he would come along.

“To be honest, before (Shanker) Basu (former head strength and conditioning coach) came to the team, he used to rarely commit himself to fitness regimes. During Tests at lunch, one chicken burger and coke would be mandatory for him. Nothing less or more. He hardly visited the gym: maybe only once in 10 days. Now, however, he has changed a lot,” Baba laughs.

Kangaroo Island visit

Now the head of communications of the Chennai Super Kings and Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, Baba fondly remembers his trip to Kangaroo Island with a part of the team, just prior to the 2015 men’s ODI World Cup, when he had a fallout with some reporters and Dhoni famously came to his rescue saying, “If the media is happy with you, then you are not a good media manager.”

The Indian team snapped before the SCG Test in 2014-15. M. S. Dhoni is seated first from right; R. N. Baba is on his left, standing second from right. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT



Pausing occasionally to recollect details, Baba said, “During the break ahead of the World Cup, Dhoni, Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, I and others... we went to Kangaroo Island. Ishant was still with us then before being ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.

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M. S. Dhoni (left), Dr. R. N. Baba (centre) and Mohit Sharma at Kangaroo Island in 2015.   -  Special Arrangement

 

“We spent seven days in that lonely place without our phones and often indulged in playing tennis and other games. We also went hiking everyday. Although, almost everyone cooked including Bhuvi and Ishant, I will always remember Dhoni’s evening barbecues. They were so nice. On any team outing, Dhoni would make sure we played a bout of paintball too.”

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Baba says, irrespective of the fun activities the team engaged in, off the field, for Dhoni, his sense of responsibility towards the nation always assumed utmost importance. That became all the more evident when on February 6, 2015, Dhoni’s wife Sakshi gave birth to daughter Ziva, a month ahead of the due date. Although the Board cleared him to visit India for the childbirth, he denied.

“He was on national duty. His team became first priority, so he didn’t fly back.”

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