Sandeep Patil: Dhoni's batting struck a chord with me

Dhoni had something special. After watching him in the nets at the National Cricket Academy, a friendly match was arranged and he batted at No. 7 and scored 35-odd runs. The way he scored those runs sort of convinced me about his ability.

M. S. Dhoni bats as Pakistan wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal looks on in the second Test in Faisalabad in January 2006.   -  S. Subramanium

The first time I saw Mahendra Singh Dhoni was in the nets during a training camp in Bangalore (at National Cricket Academy) prior to the India A tour. He looked different, with those long hair and burly look. With the bat as well, he had a unique style. Just like every actor has his unique way of delivering dialogues, every batsman has his own style.

He had something special. After watching him in the nets, a friendly match was arranged and he batted at No. 7 and scored 35-odd runs. The way he scored those runs sort of convinced me about his ability. Chandrakant Pandit, then the Under-19 coach, was also conducting the camp ahead of the World Cup.

He was sitting next to me and I told him: “Do watch out for him. He will set the cricket world ablaze with his batting”.

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It’s funny that Geoffrey Boycott, who was then assigned as batting consultant for India A team at the National Cricket Academy, watched Dhoni bat in the nets and kind of mocked him saying: “How can a cricketer bat the way he does at this level!” I heard him saying this but didn’t react. It was just another instance of how a few seniors look at cricketers, comment on them and then have to eat their words.

If someone’s special, you notice him immediately. I remember Sudhakar Adhikari (former Bombay captain) used to play a similar stroke to what became synonymous as a helicopter shot.

Even I used to play at times what they would call “pankha firawne (to swing fan)”.

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So something in his batting struck a chord with me right away. When you see that unique style is working for someone, all you have to do is encourage him to persist with it and offer solutions if you are asked.

He may have emerged as the Player of the Series in the one-dayers but he was the second wicketkeeper. Dinesh Karthik was the first choice.

When Kiran More (then chief selector) called me and asked me to suggest a wicketkeeper (late in 2004), I said definitely Dinesh Karthik because he was the first wicketkeeper on the A tour (to Zimbabwe) and he had scored runs as well. But after sounding Dinesh off to be ready, I also called Mahi because he was also understandably anxious. I told him I had suggested Dinesh because he had justified his position but I told him to remain patient and “your turn will also come.” I explained it to him and he was understanding. Now look at where Dhoni is and where Dinesh is.

As told to Amol Karhadkar.