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MS Dhoni - a small-town cult hero who made India dream

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MS Dhoni after his 183 against Sri Lanka

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MS Dhoni - a small-town cult hero who made India dream

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Bastab K Parida

08/16/2020

And just like that MS Dhoni called it a day from international cricket - a career that started in a 'Singhada and Balu Shahi ki party' in 'Chotu Bhaiya ki Dukan' ended with 0 and 50 smiling from two ends.

With an iconic Mukesh song from Yash Chopra’s Kabhie Kabhie playing in the background, Dhoni bid good-bye to international cricket, at 19:29, in a cryptic Instagram post, with the photo collage encapsulating the highs and lows of his career. There was the picture of the T20 World Cup win, another picture of people pelting stones at his house. There was a picture of his World Cup-winning six and there was another picture of THAT World Cup run-out. There were tributes to seniors and friends and there was the gratification of the massive success he accumulated during his tenure. The video was classic Dhoni, untouched by the success and failures while treating the sports’ two imposters alike. 

For, Indian cricket owes a huge debt of gratitude to this man, who achieved pinnacle by just being himself. He reigned supreme in Indian cricket, but by never disrespecting the seniors. He lent an ear to every single opinion, valued it as much but eventually took his own decisions and owned it like a boss. He backed his players, made stars out of also-rans like Sudeep Tyagi, Manpreet Goni and Mohit Sharma while retaining credibility as one of the most, if not the most, astute readers the game.

I have never been to Ranchi, have never known much about the love of the city for its home-grown superstar apart from the stories from people, books and Dhoni’s self-produced biopic. However, being from a small town myself from another Eastern Indian city, Cuttack, I know how much it matters for a small-towner when one among them goes on to make it big in life. I distinctly remember when Sanjay Raul, who had played only two ODIs for India, used to cross past Barabati Stadium - there was a craze among many on-lookers. 

Scale it up to the size of MS Dhoni and then imagine the impact he would have had on Ranchites and the whole aspiring lot from the inaccessible corners of the country. That is the legacy MS Dhoni has left behind - a legacy of hope, happiness, success and growth. It is the leap of faith that the country owes a lot to the man. From Sarupeta to Raichur, from Rahuri to Telhara, from Karumadi to Jandiala, the Dhoni impact is clearly visible in the nook and cranny of the country and in no small measure.

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Dhoni’s rise from a small town in Bihar to be an international icon extra-ordinary has also coincided with the rise of new India. Sachin Tendulkar made India dream, but underneath his temper was a surface urbanity. But Dhoni, with his unique and unorthodox style, fulfilled all of them. But he was no genie, he did it all in front of us, with a swagger in his walk, smile on his face and an inherent weakness to end Mumbai-Delhi-Bengaluru-Chennai monopoly. 

Chennai calls him one of their own, which the man reciprocated with all sincerity, but he is too proud a Jharkhandi to be settled anywhere but his home city. He still trains at the JSCA ground, goes to the same gym as other age-group players, drinks tea with ground-staff in the common room and obliges hundreds of selfie requests on a day, all with a smile on his face. He is still Mahi (Ma-hii) for them and not the Mahi (Maa-hi) that the world calls him now. 

I will narrate an incident that directly pops in my head in this regard. 2015, India vs South Africa, Barabati Stadium, Cuttack. India just suffered one of the most ignominious losses in the recent history, being dismissed for 92 in a T20I game. The match was interrupted multiple times due to unforeseen crowd trouble and players were folding hands to make them stop the disturbing act. By virtue of being a media committee member for that game, I had a fair bit of access, and when I was looking for things to get back to normal from the press box balcony, Dhoni emerged from the clock tower.

He sat down for a while under it, smiled and made his way to the ground. No fuss whatsoever. However, before anyone could realise anything, the then Indian skipper picked up a few bottles by himself and put them in the garbage. If there was a point you needed to invest in to understand how Dhoni remains so relaxed in the face of adversity, that was it. He connects with the base and remains grounded because he is detached from the urbanity.

You don’t need to look too far ahead from Jharkhand to understand the impact of MS Dhoni. Varun Aaron, Shahbaz Nadeem, and Saurabh Tiwary have represented India after him, and now Ishan Kishan and Virat Singh have set up the stall for bigger things. But remember, all of this was from the most inauspicious of beginnings. Let alone being a feeder system to the Indian team, Jharkhand, by the time Dhoni emerged, were not even the second-best team from a zone that was a perennial underperformer. Bengal and Odisha, result-wise, triumphed over them many times but now the story has taken a turn. Jharkhand is not just one of the best teams in the country, they can lay claim to have been the best on more than one occasion. 

Jharkhand’s rise as an entity in Indian cricket is the microcosm of a bigger picture and a fundamental identity to the Indianness of the Ranchite. That is the life he always wanted to lead and as the career comes to an end, the lingering aftertaste will live on for years to come, scripting and unscripting the story of a proud Indian.

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