Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of Indian cricket team has left his fingerprints on the hearts of every member of his team, young and old. Born to Pan Singh and Devki Devi in 1981, ‘Mahi’, as he is fondly known, was the youngest of three children. His father, a MECON employee, moved to Ranchi from Almora in Uttarakhand.
During his school days, young Mahi was the goalkeeper for the football team of DAV School, Ranchi. Likewise, he was excellent at badminton. In fact, he was selected for the district and club level in both these sports. But all that changed when his football instructor Mr K.R. Banerjee sent him to play cricket for a local club. Though Mahi had not really played cricket until that time, he provided immediate evidence of his wicket-keeping skills and became the regular keeper for the Commando Cricket Club (1995-98).
Based on his club cricket performances, he was picked for the 1997-98 Vinoo Mankad Trophy U-16 Championship. His performance led him to his Ranji Trophy debut for Bihar in 1999-2000 as an 18-year-old, coming through the ranks of the Bihar and East Zone U-19 squads. Football’s loss thus became cricket’s gain.
Today, Mahendra Singh Dhoni typifies savage batting and athletic wicket keeping on the cricket field. His dictum: “Mind, strategy, and attitude are important. You can’t let anything affect you during a match. You have to improve your own game to stay ahead in this world.” It seems, there is fire in his belly, and the world cannot get enough of it! Like his role models Adam Gilchrist and Sachin Tendulkar, Mahi himself has become an inspiration for millions of young Indians. His message for them: “Never give up.”
As part of the Bihar U-19 squad (Jharkhand was yet to become a state) for 1999-2000 Cooch Behar Trophy , Mahi’s statistics for the tournament read 488 runs (12 innings), four fifties, 17 catches and seven stumpings. The same year he made his Ranji Trophy debut for Bihar and finished the season with 283 runs in five matches. His maiden first- class century came against Bengal in the 2000-01 season, but it was in 2002-03 that he really came into his own, with three Ranji Trophy half- centuries and two in the Deodhar Trophy.
In 2003-04 Mahi was selected in the India A squad for a tour of Zimbabwe and Kenya. Playing the tri-nation series involving Kenya, India A and Pakistan A, Mahi scored 362 runs in six innings at an average of 72.40. This drew attention of then captain Sourav Ganguly and he was picked in the ODI squad for the Bangladesh tour in 2004- 05.
For Mahi, as for many other cricket legends, the start to his ODI career was slightly shaky, as he was run out for a duck on debut. But excellence was soon to follow, as Mahi was picked for the Pakistan ODI series. In the second match of the series at Visakhapatnam, and in his fifth one-day international, Mahi scored 148 off only 123 deliveries. It was the highest score by an Indian wicketkeeper, the record was rewritten by him before the end of the year.
In the third game of the bilateral ODI series (Oct-Nov 2005) at Jaipur, Sri Lanka set India a target of 299, and Mahi was promoted to number three to accelerate the scoring. He did justice to his promotion in incredible fashion by ending the game with 183 off 145 balls, playing like a ‘mail possessed’ according to Cricinfo, and ended the series with the highest run aggregate (346) to be declared Player of the Series.
After ODI series with Pakistan, Mahi overtook Australia skipper Ricky Ponting as number one in the ICC ODI rankings for batsmen on April 20, 2006.
In 2007, Mahi was nominated as vice-captain of the ODI team for the series against South Africa in Ireland and the subsequent India- England seven-match ODI series in Aug-Sep 2007. He was also elected captain for the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in September 2007. On September 2, 2007, Mahi equaled the international record for most dismissals in an ODI innings by catching five English players behind the stumps and stumping one, which equaled the previous record held by his idol Adam Gilchrist.
However, greater glory beckoned, as soon after Mahi was declared captain of the Indian ODI squad for the home series against Australia and Pakistan during October-December 2007, following the resignation of Rahul Dravid after the India-England NatWest Series.
In Test cricket, Mahi replaced Dinesh Karthik in December 2005 as Indian wicketkeeper following his one-day showing against Sri Lanka. He was also appointed India’s Twenty20 captain in September 2007 to participate in the ICC World Twenty20, the first international Twenty20 championship, held from September 11-24, 2007 in South Africa. He led a young team of whom no one expected much, considering the players were new to the Twenty20 format.
However, in complete contrast to pre-tournament predictions, India emerged champion by defeating Pakistan in the final by five runs. Thus, Mahendra Singh Dhoni became or.ly the second Indian captain after Kapil Dev to lift a cricket World Cup, even if in a different format.
As a captain, Dhoni has excelled with all the good qualities like being calm under pressure, backing his decisions, and not afraid of taking risks. The Indian Express commented about his captaincy in the following words: “But what’s really been the defining shade of India’s new one-day captain is the lack of fear, the wealth of self-belief, this simple credo: reputations don’t count, all that matters is confidence; the first man who raises his hand will get the job.
He’s a captain, whose no-nonsense attitude has the potential to redefine the way in which India has been picking its final XI.”
During his cricketing career, Mahi has broken many records. On October 31, 2005 Mahi scored 183 off just 145 balls against Sri Lanka at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Jaipur and broke Adam Gilchrist’s record of 172 for the highest score by a wicketkeeper. The score of 183 equaled the highest score against Sri Lanka in ODI cricket by Sourav Ganguly during the Cricket World Cup 1999. In Test cricket, Mahi’s maiden 93-ball century against Pakistan at Faisalabad is the fastest century scored by an Indian wicketkeeper.
The Wisden Test XI of 2009, like 2008, unanimously chose Mahendra Singh Dhoni as wicketkeeper, captain and No. 7, for leading India to No.l in the Test rankings, for the first time. Indeed, by the end of 2009 Dhoni had yet to lose a Test match, let alone a series while in charge. Ian Chappell said about him: “A man who handles multiple roles with aplomb and always seems to make runs when they are needed”. Former Indian cricketer and commentator Ravi Shastri, who has watched him so often, observes that Dhoni “is a superb leader of men as he can look after egos”.
Off the cricket field, too, Mahi’s rugged handsomeness, natural sense of style and easy smile has earned him a vast fan base. In fact, his changing hairstyles were a rage, with diehard fans queuing up outside salons for the ‘Dhoni look’. The Ranchi Rocker, as the media dubbed him, is a classic combination of rock star cool and down to earth humility. On the one hand, he’s crazy about dirt biking and computer gaming, and on the other, an ambassador for the government’s ‘School Chalein Hum’ campaign. On the one hand, he’s Indian cricket’s poster boy, and on the other, committed to taking cricket from the big cities to the interiors.