Throwback: When Storm Dhoni hit Patna

In 2000, M. S. Dhoni whipped a match-winning 123, effected four dismissals, and became the most-loved “guest” player for the National Stadium Coaching Centre.

M. P. Singh does not claim to be Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s coach, but he has watched him grow from a distance, sometimes from close, too. He has followed Dhoni from the time when the cricket icon had not even played a first-class game.

The year was 2000. The National Stadium Coaching Centre (NSCC) team was travelling to Patna for a local tournament. The draw: a cash prize of ₹1 lakh for the winner.

“It was big money those days,” recalled Sports Authority of India coach Singh. But the NSCC ran into a crisis on the eve of their departure when regular wicketkeeper Abhay Sharma was injured during practice and Vivek Razdan, the skipper, expressed reservations about going with the team.

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Singh lost no time and contacted Bihar cricketer Mohammad Tariq. “I was told there was a boy with long hair. I was told to ignore his long-haired appearance and play him. Not a great keeper but a fantastic batsman,” remembered Singh.

So Razdan travelled to Patna and at the first team meeting he wanted to know if anyone was keen on opening the batting. “This long-haired boy put his hand up and hit the opposition like a storm the next day,” said Singh.

Dhoni whipped a match-winning 123, effected four dismissals, and became the most-loved “guest” player for the NSCC.

At another time, Dhoni went with the Air India team to Rohru in Himachal Pradesh for a popular tournament. At the end of the final, he emerged as the most popular player ever to have performed at Rohru. He hit 16 sixes and his shots cost the organisers four balls, which were lost. In fact, it became the accepted norm for organisers to keep an extra set of balls if Dhoni was part of a team.

Dhoni loved training at the National Stadium in Delhi, which was a transit coaching place for him during the season. With close friend Arun Pandey, he would stay at a rented barsaati in Lodhi Colony, not far from the National Stadium, and take part in various tournaments.

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“He was ever ready to play, any time of the day or night, riding with Arun on his bike,” said Singh.

For Singh, Dhoni was a “model” student. “He played many tournaments for us in Delhi, Patna, Bareilly, Rajnandgaon, in 2002 and 2003. He once refused to travel to Gwalior when the organisers offered him a luxury car. He went with the team in a bus. But it became increasingly tough for him to play for us after making his international debut. But he would never miss a nets session with us at the National Stadium whenever he was in Delhi. He often turned up unannounced and never demanded special attention. An amazingly humble superstar.”