Blitzkrieg! That’s how I would like to define Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s entry into international cricket.
He made his presence felt in the domestic circuit around 2002 and within the next couple of years, he was playing for India! And not just that. He had cemented his place in the team within six months of his international debut — something not many could do. But then, that was Dhoni. With his sheer brilliance, he not only stamped his class, but also bulldozed all his competitors.
From 2002-2004, Indian cricket had witnessed quite a few changes in terms of wicketkeepers. As the likes of Adam Gilchrist or Mark Boucher dominated the world stage, in India, too, we were looking at someone who would not only be a wicketkeeper, but also a solid No. 6 batsman. As a result, there were too many changes, and things were still not working.
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And around that time came Dhoni.
Initially, he was more of a batsman, who could keep wickets. But gradually, he became an equally good wicketkeeper. As I look back, I think that Dhoni — the ’keeper — has redefined the art of wicketkeeping to a great extent. Before he came in, the craft hadn’t evolved much and most of the wicketkeepers would follow the good old methods and training. But Dhoni turned it 180 degrees. He did not follow the rule book. There was no room for convention. Dhoni did things his way and that not only helped him gain success, but also changed the dynamics of the sport.
Around 2003-2004, I was trying to cope with the changes in technique. It was the time when I was left out of the Indian team and was trying hard to find a way back. So, when Dhoni came in, there was an initial competition for sure, but within a year, I could realise that he was class apart!
As Dhoni went about his business, you would often wonder: "Hey, where am I going wrong?"
Of course, the basics did not change, but then, he was breaking all the set ideas and creating his own technique. Ever since our formative years, we — the wicketkeepers — were told that you needed a lot of footwork. But Dhoni proved that it wasn’t necessary. He was more effective on the field, even without moving much.
We were also told about giving in when the ball comes, but Dhoni did not do that, and it worked perfectly for him. That’s when I started thinking that if he is not giving in and it’s still working fine, then why is it not working for me?
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So, it was a phase where one had to unlearn whatever he had learned over the years. But then, the cool and calm demeanour of Dhoni would give the confidence. Not only his team-mates, he could inspire everyone.
Having played zonal cricket together, we initially did not realise that he would go so far. In 2002-2003, I could not even imagine that he would retire in 2020, with such a stature and with such great numbers. But then, that’s his greatness. He has battled the odds and has made things work his way, without following convention.
It has been a pleasure knowing you, MS. Thanks for the memories!
As told to Shayan Acharya.