Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s elder brother Narendra Singh Dhoni says, “Mahi is a footballer-turned-cricketer, while I am a cricketer -turned-footballer.
“Perhaps Mahi does not know about my cricket. I played for the school football team as goalkeeper in several National-level events,” says Narendra.
“Mahi’s contribution in the two finals was the biggest — placing a short fine-leg to take Pakistan’s last wicket in the 2007 final (World T20) and coming up the order in the 2011 final (ICC World Cup),” Narendra says about the two World titles India won under his brother’s captaincy.
“This time, his role is different, but very important,” says Narendra, admitting his ‘generation gap’ with MSD (10 years) and the lack of cricket talk with his brother.
Jaykumar Sinha, a former Ranchi University coach and convenor of the Jharkhand State Cricket Association, follows MSD’s moves closely.
Sinha, who has seen MSD evolve from a youngster to a World champion, decodes Captain Cool’s game. “There is no one to replace him,” he says.
One of his closest friends and teammate in the Bihar and Railways sides Satya Prakash speaks about MSD’s ability to adapt.
“We used to call him atankwadi (terrorist). He used to hit 40-50 runs off 20 balls. But he became a saint when he played for the country and changed his approach.”
Deepak Singh, MSD’s batch-mate and room-mate in SER, has some fond memories.
“In 2003, we were watching the India-Australia World Cup final on TV. (Rahul) Dravid was ’keeping and Parthiv (Patel) was the reserve ’keeper.
“I asked Mahi, who had fractured his left hand, ‘When will you play for India?’ He said, ‘My luck maybe bad, but it is not so bad that I cannot play for India ever’. That was his confidence,” says Deepak.
Besides managing his daily practice sessions between his duties as ticket examiner, MSD had to cook his food in a small, dingy two-room accommodation on the stadium premises.
Moving around on borrowed bikes, watching television at a friend’s place, spending time at shops such as ‘Thomas chaiwala’ or ‘Kamal chowmeinwala’ were his favourite pastimes during his Kharagpur days.
MSD’s practical approach has been his biggest asset.
“Dhoni lives in the present. He remains focused on whatever he does — whether he is playing or meeting friends,” says Deepak.
Lucky Swain, the main organiser of the 27-year-old Pradip memorial tournament — which has featured international stars like Venugopala Rao, Saurabh Tiwary, Mohammed Nabi (Afghanistan) and Mehdi Hasan (Bangladesh) — reminisces his Dhoni moments.
“Dhoni played here in 2002 and 2003 and he was so popular for his big hitting that families used to invite him for lunch and dinner,” says Swain.
Whatever be the sport, MSD’s killer instinct has not changed over the years.
“He learnt snooker very fast and now he wants to beat me. Not just snooker, whatever he plays — badminton or tennis — he wants to win,” notes Sinha, MSD’s regular snooker partner in Ranchi.
“Dhoni practises seven hours a day. Hardly anyone knows that he has played the under-19 State badminton championship,” he says.
Pranab Roy, who was the East Zone selector when Dhoni was picked for India, says, “He is a born fighter and does not care about the opponent. He always concentrates on his job.
“I remember my conversation with the then coach Greg Chappell, who had predicted that Dhoni would lead India,” says Roy.
Srinivas Rao, a close friend and now in charge of the SERSA Stadium, wishes MSD the best.
“We are all very proud that one of us has reached so far. Hope he wins the cup again,” says Rao, who has made a lot of effort to put in place the M.S. Dhoni Museum, situated next door to where he used to live, in the stadium complex.
Elsewhere, 55km from Ranchi, some smiling faces are waiting for another meeting with MSD.
Dhoni, who made the ancient Dewri temple at remote Tamar a tourist attraction, is expected to visit the shrine any time before leaving for the World Cup.
“Prior to the 2011 World Cup, he performed a yajna here. He has great faith in the Goddess and comes here with family and friends whenever he is in Ranchi,” says Gopal Bhattacharya, a servitor at the temple.
When Dhoni sets off for England, billions of Indian fans, including Narendra, will expect him to help the country regain the coveted trophy in what is likely to be his last World Cup.
(As the Indian team prepares for the World Cup, The Hindu and Sportstar will travel to the hometowns of the players and highlight their personal stories).