Why is it called a Helicopter Shot? Who named it? This is a question that keeps popping up in the many Barbershop discussions I have been part of. But do you know, the shot made famous by MS Dhoni, a throwback to his maidan days in Ranchi, has an interesting backstory - a kind of Bollywood script.
Back in the days in school, political opinions or the receding economy never mattered to me. I have always been a cricket guy, finding joy in everything the 22-yard has to offer and it was only natural that the back page of the newspaper was the first thing I would ever turn to. Don’t remember the exact date - I don’t even bother googling it - but what I do remember is the “MS Dhoni turns hero for India in Nairobi” headline on the New Indian Express as I packed my stuff for school. Not sure if that headline played a part, but Dhoni became the very synonym of my cricket-watching days, with my Youtube filling with “MS Dhoni this... Ms Dhoni that.” search history and I can’t help it even now.
Being a small-towner in the cauldron of Indian cricket, which was dominated by the elites of Mumbai, Delhi, and Karnataka, something unique is needed to rise above the stereotypes. Dhoni was the perfect prototype defying conventional wisdom for greater success - a never-seen avatar. And the truth is anyone who has followed his career ever since his duck-debut against Bangladesh, has reasons to feel privileged for a long-locked unconventional man from the eastern Indian outpost of Ranchi changed the sport in a way very little has.
And at the heart of it, it has to be the way he played his cricket - as Siddharth Monga puts it for ESPN Cricinfo, “MS Dhoni demonstrated all that was right with the new middle-class India. He didn't respect reputations but never disrespected. He improvised, he learned but didn't make an apology about his batting style, which was not the most elegant. He still batted with low, hockey hands, he still didn't look elegant but became a multi-faceted ODI batsman, one who could accumulate, one who could rebuild, and one who could still unleash those big sixes.”
Just wander your mind back to the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, on April 2, 2011. With four runs needed off 11 balls, Dhoni hit perhaps the most celebrated shot in Indian cricketing history - Sorry, Sachin Tendulkar, your uppercut was good, but seriously? - and he did that with what has been labelled as Helicopter Shot, a flick off the bat toward the leg side when facing a Nuwan Kulasekara full-length delivery. It has now been a lodestone in Indian lore and surely, the cornerstone in MS Dhoni’s rise as an inspirational cricketer.
The origin of the helicopter shot
Although Sachin Tendulkar played a variant of the Helicopter shot just after scoring his 32nd ODI century in Chester-le-Street against England in 2002, the world knows Dhoni as the man who made it popular. But it was actually Dhoni’s childhood friend and former Jharkhand cricketer Santosh Lal who the former had first seen playing in a local night match that ignited his ambition to learn the trick.
As shown in Dhoni’s biopic “MS Dhoni: The Untold Story”, Lal played the shot to impress his girl-friend and labelled it as “Thappad Shot”. Thappad, in Hindi, means slap and it was exactly like that. It was a tight slap on the leather when the bowler unleashes a yorker delivery that was virtually unplayable those days if you miss the flick. By Thappad Shot, one could actually hit a six off a yorker, and that Dhoni learnt from his friend, who went on to play eight first-class matches alongside 16 List-A and 6 T20 games for Jharkhand. Lal taught him in exchange of Singhadas (A vernacular term for Samosas in Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha).
Attesting to the fact, Lal’s another long-time friend, Nishant Dayal told Indian Express, “He and Dhoni would play tennis ball games endlessly. They both worked for Railways. Santosh was fearless as a batsman. Over the years, Dhoni may have patented the ‘helicopter shot’ but growing up, there was someone who was better at it. Dhoni always admired his batting style. And Santosh taught him to play the helicopter shot.”
Lal, whose drinking problem became a cause for concern in his friend circle, had played his last representational BCCI game in March 2010 - a T20I against Himachal Pradesh in Indore - but unfortunately, in 2013, died aged 29 of pancreatitis. A devastated MS Dhoni had arranged for an air ambulance to bring Lal from Ranchi to Delhi for better treatment but fate had other plans for his friend who unknowingly made a big difference to his career.
Times are now different. Dhoni might never play for India again but as long as Ravi Shastri’s reverberating voice of “Dhoni finishes it off in style” will echo in the ears of an Indian cricket fan, the helicopter will roar with equal measure. The legacy shall endure.