Video editor: Rahul Sanpui
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
“You’ve been a big brother to all of us. You will always be my captain.”
“Thank you for always being there for us.”
“Happy birthday to an amazing friend and an amazing guide.”
“Everyday with you in a chance to learn and grow.”
An amazing guide, a big brother to all. Always there. There are many things that make Mahendra Singh Dhoni one of India’s greatest cricketers, but if his contemporaries’ wishes for him on his 38th birthday last year tell us anything, it is that his legacy will be more than just the trophies he helped India win, the runs he scored for his team or the wickets he effected behind the stumps.
Because this is a man who’s self-taught brand of maverick cricket helped him rise from the platforms of a Kharagpur train station to the glory of a World T20 trophy, in his debut tournament as captain, in a matter of just four years. This is a man who in fact preferred football and till 17, hadn't even played state cricket but nine years later was handed India’s ODI captaincy ahead of players like Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, and Mohammad Kaif, who at 18, had started to establish themselves in Indian cricket.
So, how did a virtually unknown player, who had played just 34 first-class matches before his debut at age 21 in 2004, go on to become India captain in all formats and more importantly, go on to win India every glory that had eluded the team for decades before?
The answer is in the question itself. MS Dhoni became MS Dhoni because he never stopped being MS Dhoni.
Not much of an answer, is it now?
Well, what I mean is that no matter the glory and no matter the accolades, MS Dhoni stayed true to his roots and true to who he was and, in the process, helped players along the way, believe in themselves that who they were and no matter which state team they came from or how much they had done – or not done in the past,– in that very moment – they were enough.
Remember the 2007 World T20 Final? Dhoni’s first tournament as captain and Pakistan needed 13 runs in the final over and who does he turn to? Joginder Sharma. India won that game by 5 runs.
The 2016 World T20. Bangladesh needed 11 runs from the last over and a mostly untested Hardik Pandya, with his 13 international caps and 11 wickets, was given the ball. India won the match by 1 run.
It’s the faith Dhoni showed in players, when not many others would have. It’s the guidance he himself gave them that made them believe they could do it.
Mohit Sharma, Kedar Yadhav, Suresh Raina at different times have credited Mahi for teaching them the ropes.
Because if a small-town guy could beat the odds and the flashy names in the dressing room to become India’s most successful captain ever, then why couldn’t they defy the odds as well?
A lot of how Dhoni influences other careers and how he continues to – if his birthday tweets are anything to go by – also had to do with the time in Indian cricket that he came into prominence in.
India had made an embarrassingly early exit from the 2007 World Cup with a team full of players who were on their way out; Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble were all legends of the game and to replace them all at once wasn’t a task many would’ve liked to take up.
But unlike the current Indian team, the replacements weren’t polished diamonds like Bumrah or Kul-cha or Pandya, and Dhoni’s ODI team a year later, in the Commonwealth Bank series, featured new faces like Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, and Robin Uthappa. But India won that tri-series featuring Australia and Sri Lanka, in Australia.
Not a team of world-beaters on paper but players with promise whom Dhoni collectively taught to dominate the opposition.
Because if a small-town boy, and I keep saying this again, if a small-town boy with football in his childhood dreams could go on to lift a cricket World Cup, what more do you need as an inspiration that, well, anything indeed is possible?
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