Inspiring a generation

As a promoter of other sport…Dhoni at a media conference after signing as the co-owner of the Indian Super League franchise, Chennaiyin FC.-PTI

Mahendra Singh Dhoni opened new avenues for small-town cricketers to challenge the established cricket nurseries of the country, writes Vijay Lokapally.

There was a touch of exasperation in the manner in which he walked away from the Test scene. This was not the Mahendra Singh Dhoni we knew, a man sure of every step he took, a batsman who set his own course, and a captain who demanded and got what he wanted. Dhoni was different. It was exceptional that he emerged from a little-known town and went on to lead the Indian team that had stalwarts such as Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. In fact, he opened new avenues for small-town cricketers to challenge the established cricket nurseries of the country.

Dhoni would travel to any part of the country to play matches. He was aggressive and ambitious. Playing three local limited-overs matches a day was a norm that he followed for long. Soon word spread that there was a match-winner from Ranchi, who possessed a special brand of cricket. His batting was explosive and he showed no respect for the opposition. It was this attitude — even if brash at times — that appealed to most people. Later, when Dhoni played international cricket, the attitude reflected in his swagger too.

Dhoni’s decision to quit Test cricket, however, was in contrast to his image. About two decades ago, the media cried itself hoarse when Navjot Singh Sidhu walked out of India’s tour of England following differences with the captain, Mohammed Azharuddin. Much earlier, something similar had happened on the England tour of 1936 when Lala Amarnath left the team midway.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India perhaps was far more hospitable with regard to Dhoni’s decision to retire in the middle of an important away Test series. It says as much about the pliant media as the stature of Dhoni in Indian cricket. Very few talked of the pressure his retirement, with a Test to go, would bring on the team. Besides, the reasons for Dhoni’s sudden decision to leave the team midway through the tour of Australia have remained under the carpet. The Board perhaps prefers things that way.

Away from this controversy, there is certainly need for a bit of soul searching for everybody involved, from the selectors to the administrators, and of course the central actor in this drama.

Dhoni the cricketer, if not the captain, deserves some credit. Hailing from Ranchi — a place not renowned for providing outstanding domestic cricketers, leave alone internationally acclaimed players — Dhoni was the bridge between cricket’s India and Bharat. He inspired players in remote areas to chase their dreams. As a result, we now see the Indian team comprising players from all corners of the country.

A face that launched top brands. Dhoni as brand ambassador of Reebok.-SHASHI ASHIWAL

For too long, the Mumbaikars, with the Delhiites running a close second, dominated the Indian cricket team. With a player or two from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Bengal thrown into the mix, the Indian squad was complete. But that was until a witty, clever kid emerged from Ranchi — a boy who loved to hit the ball out of the park and relished taking on the best with his unique variety of shots.

After the initial struggle and toil in an attempt to catch the attention of the selectors, Dhoni rose briskly. Following an India ‘A’ tour of Kenya he quickly made it to the Indian team (his name was pencilled in first) before taking over its reins. That Tendulkar had recommended his name for India’s captaincy speaks for the confidence and faith that Dhoni enjoyed. Taking the Indian team to the top of the Test rankings and leading the squad to victory in the World Cup in 2011 (he is only the second Indian after Kapil Dev, in 1983, to do so) are achievements Dhoni can take pride in. None had done better; none had dreamed bigger. However, for Dhoni it was not roses all the way. There were whispers that he had eased the senior players out.

Then came his growing proximity with N. Srinivasan, and with it accusations of conflict of interest. As an employee of India Cements — which owned the Indian Premier League team, Chennai Super Kings — captaining both CSK and India at the same time made Dhoni the most powerful person in Indian cricket.

Dhoni, the brand that ruled the commercial market with its amazing appeal, kept a calm, cool head and concentrated on what he did best: play cricket, and promote other sport by investing in different teams engaged in private leagues. His popularity has also fuelled speculations about his political aspirations.