Dhoni finished it off in his style…

What are dreams? What are aspirations? In India, where Cricket is the most common thread of integrating people more than their religion, are we even allowed to dream of becoming a part of the Indian cricket team and play the World Cup? Every dream doesn’t come true… or does it?

It was a quiet and peaceful rainy day. Since morning the air had been filled with a sense of pride and nostalgia as “Mere Desh ki Dharti” and “Ae Mere watan ke logo” were being played at every single chowk in Pune as it was the 73rd Independence Day of India. PM Modi, not breaking his annual tradition even in these unusual times, had given a wonderful speech regarding his views and India’s prospective journey towards “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” and I, on my expedition to achieve it, was going through my cupboard, clearing out stuff, and making space for the stuff that was needed as this year’s college resources (also my CA exams which I like to boast about). The day was alive and kicking. I was sipping my evening tea and going through some past years’ questions. Suddenly there was a  flash of continuous notifications on my mobile phone. I went on to pick it up only to find the whole world came crashing at my feet. The great MS Dhoni on his Instagram account had just posted a video with a caption, “From 1929 consider me as retired”!

I stood there rooted to the ground. For a minute, I couldn’t feel the air around me. Words just cannot express the emotions I was going through. Words fail to express the rollercoaster of emotions within me. Dhoni, in his notorious way, had posted a 2 and half minute video showcasing the highlights of his glorious career. Meanwhile in the background, “Main pal do pal ka shayaar hu” was edited into the video, which made it certain that this song won’t be the same anymore for over a billion cricket fans and especially Indian fans.  

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Mahendra Singh Dhoni. If you are a cricket fan, this name surely has been imprinted into your brain like nothing else. Crossing every single obstacle thrown at him by life, a young long-haired muscular Ranchi (then part of Bihar) boy rose through domestic cricket and made his presence known to the entire cricketing fraternity through his aggressive ball-hitting and somewhat uncanny wicketkeeping. Nobody would have envisaged the success this guy was going to achieve. And yet a quiet, shy kid went on to become the greatest ever captain India has ever seen (no offense Dada fans) and I would even go a step further to say one of the greatest cricketing minds the world has ever seen. 

Growing up, Mahi used to play all kinds of sports. He never was a studious kid. It was sports in his mind and friends in his heart. Mahi’s family was just like another average Indian middle-class family. Having said that, his parents safeguarded his academic future by admitting him into DAV Vidya Mandir school which was an Abhinav or a DES of Ranchi at that time. He was the goalkeeper of his school’s football team. Seeing his unusual technique and lightning-quick instinct to catch the ball, school coach KR Banerjee asked Mahi if he would like to keep wickets for the Cricket team. Mahi obliged and there began the journey scripted in heaven!

Gradually gaining the confidence, Mahi became a promising wicket-keeper batsman of his team, who batted down the order but had the right attacking mindset to step up the scoring rate towards the end of the innings. Let us push through a couple of years. It was 1997 and inter-school finals in Ranchi. Sixteen-year-old Mahi made a strange request to his coach that he wanted to open the innings. KR Banerjee was not at all keen to oblige to this strange request and that too in an important final. But he reluctantly said yes to this adamant young lad thinking if this gamble works, he knew Mahi would score any number of runs in no time. What followed was absolute carnage and display of what the future was holding for Mahi. Almost every shot was hit with such a brute force that the ball would fall several meters beyond the boundary. Mahi went on to score a match-winning innings of 213 not out of just 150 balls. Thus gaining status in school cricket, Mahi’s career took a head start, and soon he started climbing the ladder to play domestic cricket for his state.

Having asked the reason behind his attacking style in an interview, Mahi cheerfully once said,” Agar aap Mumbai, Delhi mein acha karte ho to aapko sab notice karenge. Lekin Bihar jaise chhote State se agar aapko National team mein jaana ho to aisa khelna hoga jo accha se thoda jyada behtaar ho aur tabhi log aapko notice karenge”.

These were the words of a 16 year old boy speaking with a maturity of a 40 year old retired cricketer. Such was his ability to think beyond the game and understand the situation, that for him to have the India Cap, he will have to put those extra efforts just to get recognized. Undeterred by this, he still chose to stay in Ranchi and play for his state rather than changing cities and going to cricketing hubs like Kolkata or Mumbai or Bangalore, which would make it easy for him to make into the National team.

Mahi made a name for himself and was selected for the Under-19 Bihar Team for Cooch Behar trophy in 1998-99. The season of 1999-00 was his last chance to make it into the Indian Under-19 team. Throughout the tournament, Mahi was hammering the bowlers into every single gap that was visible. In the final of Cooch Behar trophy, Mahi scored a decent 84 only to find himself on the losing side as the captain of Punjab’s team Yuvraj singh ne itna maara ki dhaga khol diya ekdum. Mahi couldn’t make it into the Indian U-19 team but Yuvi made it. So close, yet so far. Who would have thought that this tussle between those two, would go on to script a World cup for India a decade later! 

Pacing himself through the Ranji seasons for a couple of years, Mahi found himself in a dilemma (since we are the students of Economics, let’s say a trade-off between opportunity costs). At the age of 21-22, he could either continue cricket without providing anything to his family or get forced out of the game altogether and work. But as they say, “Where there is a will, there is a way”. A seemingly good opportunity arose for Mahi and he moved to Kharagpur as a ticket collector, where he could earn a decent amount of money but also play for the South Eastern Railway team. But this was a tough, struggling period for him as he didn’t get many opportunities. Managing the job and focusing on his cricketing career was taking him towards mental exhaustion. Living in a small quarter with 4 other people, waking up early, doing the household chores all by himself and getting ready for the job and then playing cricket for the rest of the evening. Couple of years into this ‘temporary’ routine, there was no success in either of his jobs, Neither was he getting a call for the National team (he wasn’t selected for the 2003 world cup), nor was his job giving him the satisfaction he needed. He was ducking every bouncer bowled by life and was losing his calm. But being an aggressive player, he decided to go for the pull shot and play a ‘calculated’ gamble like always. He left his job and went home to purely focus on cricket.  

In the year of 2004, BCCI had initiated a Talent resource Development wing to fast-track the talent in corners of India. That turned out to be the turning point of Mahi’s life. His consistent performances down the order and average wicket keeping in the List A circuit earned him his first India A call for the tour of Kenya. Next up was the quadrangular series where he hit 2 tons vs Pakistan A and was the player of the tournament. He had surely got the attention of Indian selectors and captain of the Indian cricket team Saurav Ganguly. 

At last on the 23rd December 2004 Mahi made his ODI debut for India. After a long wait, having faced all kinds of financial problems, tension, frustration, helplessness, and thought of leaving the sport entirely, there he was wearing the jersey he used to day-dream about. There he was part of a team whom he had seen lose the 2003 WC final on TV. There he was standing with the great Sachin Tendulkar whose poster he had on his wall growing up. There he was giving the perfect template to every single dreamer like him in India with unusual dreams but not the right resources to achieve them. A small-town boy was about to embark on a journey with all the highs and lows, but ultimately taking Indian cricket to its peak.


        Vedant Harasure SY BS.C Economics

Swaroop Joshi SY BS.C Economics

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