Former chairman of selectors Kiran More has revealed that it was not an easy task to fit MS Dhoni into the East Zone playing XI for the 2003-04 Duleep Trophy final in Mohali against North Zone. However, since the national selectors were keenly looking for someone to relieve Rahul Dravid from keeping duties, they went out of their way to ensure the youngster played that match.
After Nayan Mongia was dropped from the team in the early 2000s, India struggled to find a suitable replacement for the keeper-batter. As a result, Dravid filled in as a makeshift gloveman, even performing the role in the 2003 World Cup.
Team India, however, were aware that they needed a genuine keeper to step into the specialist role. This is when the selectors came to know about Dhoni. They were keen to see how he performs in a big game.
Recalling how Dhoni ended up playing the 2003-04 Duleep Trophy final, More said on Sportskeeda’s SK Tales:
“We were looking for a wicketkeeper to take the responsibility off Rahul Dravid. We pushed for him (Dhoni) to keep wickets in the Duleep Trophy final in Chandigarh.
"We spoke to Bengal selectors; there were a lot of issues. In the end, everyone came on the same page. Sourav Ganguly and (Jagmohan) Dalmiya ji and Pranab Roy. Deep (Dasgupta) did not play that match.”
Providing details of how the experiment worked out, More added:
“We wanted to see Dhoni keeps wickets. Batting, he was outstanding. Ashish Nehra was bowling and there were a couple of other good fast bowlers in North Zone. He went and smashed 60 runs and he kept wickets decently.
"He was not outstanding, but he had ideas and a brilliant brain. We then sent him to the Kenya tour. He scored some 400 runs and the rest is history.”
Dhoni smashed 440 runs in eight matches, including two hundreds and two fifties, during India A’s tour of Kenya in 2004. He made his international debut the same year, in an ODI against Bangladesh in Chattogram in December.
“I give a lot of credit to Greg Chappell” - Kiran More on MS Dhoni’s rise to stardom
While former India coach Greg Chappell is often criticized over his controversial tenure with the national team, More credited the Aussie legend for shaping Dhoni’s career, saying:
“I give a lot of credit to Greg Chappell, the way he molded him and used him in the right place. Credit to a lot of my fellow selectors as well, who really supported in this journey of MS Dhoni.”
On the expectations the selectors and team management had from the Ranchi-born cricketer as a youngster, the former stumper revealed:
“We had a discussion with Chappell. Rahul (Dravid) was there, Sourav was also there. We were looking for an impact player. We had Yuvraj Singh, no doubt. But we also wanted someone who could just go out and dominate.”
Concluding his thoughts on the man who would go on to become one of world cricket’s biggest icons, the former selector said:
“We were lucky as selectors to spot Dhoni. He has his own way of playing cricket. He showed the world how the game can be played “dimaag se” (with brains). No technique but, with a great mind, and he did so well for India [sic].”
Dhoni was named captain of the Indian team for the 2007 T20 World Cup. He went on to lead the Men in Blue to victory in a nail-biting final against Pakistan in Johannesburg exactly 15 years ago.