To the dream chaser MS Dhoni - Happy Birthday!
I remember watching a group of kids fight over the correct way to play a shot, and unlike the 90s and early 21st Century when I grew up as a cricket fanatic, they weren’t debating about the straightness of the elbow while playing a straight drive like Sachin Tendulkar or about the still head while cutting the ball square like Rahul Dravid, they were debating about the height of the backlift while playing the Helicopter Shot.
This can’t be a story scripted anywhere on this earth, this is scripted elsewhere!
Adelaide, Australia and India needed 15 off 5 balls, MS Dhoni hits one to deep midwicket but refuses to take a single and give R. Ashwin the strike, a nation of a billion people ups the decibels: ludicrous, preposterous, downright stupid, they say. The next ball, a yorker that missed its mark by one-half of an inch, MS shifts his weight slightly on his backfoot, in comes that backlift from the orbit and the ball goes sailing over the longest straight boundary in Australia, for 113 meters!
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Outstanding, Midas, sublime, a billion people up the decibel again, this time cajoling MS for another. The next ball, a fulltoss, MS hits it straight to the deep square leg fielder, the nation grunts, drama, umpire calls it a waist-high no-ball. The next ball, a deft touch off his pads, the ball beats David Warner, India win!
Tell me this can be a tale scripted on the face of this earth. This was for sure being scripted elsewhere.
Where it all started
A swashbuckling lad from Ranchi was making news all across the local cricket clubs, he could hit the ball harder than anyone at that point and had something about him, long golden tresses, an aura of a carefree warrior and the bat speed of flash! MS Dhoni was a sensation way before he became one.
A 183* against Sri Lanka after a bludgeoning 148 against Pakistan was surely some way to announce one’s arrival after having gotten run-out for a duck on his ODI debut. But there was more that this dream-chaser from Ranchi had in store in the years to come.
India were drubbed out of the ICC World Cup, 2007’s group stages and none of the big names wanted to go and play some 20 over World Cup in South Africa. MS Dhoni was asked to captain the side (remember- the script) and suddenly one game after the other, this Indian side seemed different, players you hadn’t heard of and captain you weren’t used to, were suddenly catching top international sides off-guard.
Suddenly the fielders were running quicker, the throws from the boundaries were flatter and on-target, suddenly India’s limited over side seemed changed. The cynic would scoff, ‘what difference does the captain make?’, but, maybe this time around the captain was indeed making a difference.
In close games this team believed it could win, when the opposition looked them in the eye, this team didn’t try counting grass blades on the field. And that is because they believed that they belonged. And they believed so because every time a problem arose and they looked at their captain, he was right there, serene, with maybe a whirlpool of emotions inside him but a smile on his face, and suddenly the team believed that everything was fine and that they could win.
Then, the moment arrived – Joginder Sharma bowled, Misbah mistimed a scoop and Sreesanth caught the ball, celebrations galore! The side that was annihilated far west in the West-Indies not long back, in the same colours won the first ever World T20 Championship. The cynic scoffed again, ‘Ah! that was a lucky getaway!’, maybe, but how many young boys from small cities are entitled to such luck, MSD was, because he made his fortunes.
In the years to come, through crescendoes and troughs, through praises and criticisms, through a tumult of emotions MSD grew; No. 1 test side, No.1 ODI side, the 2011 Cricket World Cup, the 2013 Champions Trophy.
There’s barely a trace of shiny black in those once flawless long tresses, there’s a myriad of grey in that beard, and the skin doesn’t seem as youthful as it did when he stepped in to dominate, a decade back. It takes some gall to captain a side with a billion expectations, and the burden shows.
But still, when Bangladesh needed 2 off the last ball in the group stage game of the WT20 2016 in Bengaluru, MS took his right glove off, Pandya bowled the ball with some speed and it hit his right palm. The non-striker had already taken a start and it was now a sprint race between a 20-year-old lively and lithe Mustafizur Rehman and an ageing, under pressure 34-year-old MSD, despite the advantage of a start and lighter body, Mustafizur missed the crease by at least 3 yards!
The classic Range Rover had beaten the chic BMW, again.
Happy Birthday, Champion!
Today when Mahendra Singh Dhoni turns 35, he stares right at the approaching horizon, the hair are less and grey, the body older and the skin wrinkled, but even today, a ball from the middle of his bat travels the maximum distance, and his sprints can give a 20-year-old youngster a run for his money (ask Mustafizur).
You might argue about MS Dhoni’s unusual batting technique but the aesthetics of batting weren’t MS Dhoni’s USP, ever. He has always been that kid who struggles with cursive handwriting but writes the most prolific answers.
Here’s wishing a happy birthday to someone who has defied all that wanted to deter him from being a champion, to someone who didn’t always practice on lush green outfields and didn’t enjoy the luxuries of bigger cities. Happy birthday to the man who has written his own scripts, who has chased the most extraordinary dreams, a man who has lived the dream!
As a kid, I used to shadow-bat and make India win imaginary games from crunch situations by hitting a six; MSD might not show it, but boy that heart must feel so good, everytime, when after a six the scoreboard declares his team, India, victorious!
Somewhere in a small park, in an unknown town, kids are practicing the helicopter shot, going deep into their crease, and instead of blocking a yorker (which is how it is typically played) they’re lofting it with that massive bat swing.
Maybe MSD has taught more to the next generation than just the helicopter shot. He has taught them to break stereotypes, to believe in those dreams, he has taught them to write their own scripts and be MS Dhoni.