What do I write about a man who has given me one of the best moments of my life? Where do I begin talking about how he has become one of my life’s greatest inspirations? How could I possibly find the right words to eloquently justify the level of respect and admiration I have for Mahendra Singh Dhoni?
I probably will never be able to. But here is a meagre attempt at it anyway.
Let’s back it up a little, shall we?
In a piece I wrote only a few days back, I briefly discussed about how that was the year I fell in love with cricket.
The inaugural T20 World Cup, which a Dhoni-led Indian side won, was my first proper introduction to cricket. And to Dhoni too. In the months prior to that eventful September of ’07, I had heard the name “Dhoni” umpteen number of times. The ODI World Cup that year saw an absolutely dismal performance from the Indian team. I particularly remember listening to (or did I read it???) reports on how some of the Indian public had started attacking the family homes of some players. Dhoni’s name often crept up during that time.
Odd, I remember thinking, how unbearably passionate these cricket fans seem…
Oh, but I digress.
Fast forward to September 24th, 2007, and there stood a victorious, long-haired, elated Captain Dhoni. World Cup in his hand, and the world at his feet. Invincible. Iconic. Immovable.
The legend of MS Dhoni had begun.
In the months that followed, it felt like the world around me only spoke of Dhoni. He was in every other advertisement. Every brand wanted him to be the face of their product/service. He was in the papers, in the magazines, and on tv. The girls wanted to marry him; the boys wanted to be him. That I was in a particularly cricket-obsessed ninth grade class that year, added to my own personal obsession. (I sometimes wonder if my love for cricket would’ve advanced as much as it did, had I not been a part of that wonderful batch of idiots. :)). His hairstyle was as important a talking point as his wicketkeeping. He was pretty much everyone’s favourite boy. You couldn’t miss Mahendra Singh Dhoni; even if you wanted to.
There was an interview he’d done that year for an Indian news network, NDTV. I remember it vividly (maybe a bit too vividly, haha). It was nearly an hour long. He wore a red t-shirt, and had just had his long locks chopped off. Unsurprisingly, everyone in school was talking about that interview the next day. The Dhoni craze was widespread and intense, and there seemed to be no end to it. One of my school bus-mates had fallen head over heels in love with him. Once, when a junior had sneaked in an mp3 player (yes, that ancient device!!!), said bus-mate borrowed it on our way home and was listening to a very popular romantic Bollywood track that had come out that year. Someone teasingly asked her “Who are you thinking about?”. She laughed and said, “Dhoni!”.
I don’t mention this anecdote unintentionally here. Sure, I think of it till this day, and laugh at the sheer silliness of it all. But it’s a memory that reminds me that our besottedness with him didn’t end at just silly teenage love. Neither was he a player who had his fifteen minutes of fame, and was then left forgotten in the history books. He created history – in his own nonchalant, often very altruistic manner.
Like I said, there was no escaping the charm, the magic, and the undeniable greatness of Dhoni.
In the years that followed, as we grew from teenagers to adults, the impact of Mahendra Singh Dhoni only grew in a more profound, meaningful way. At least it did for me.
When you grow up watching a player like MS Dhoni, you grow up learning from an ongoing, unfinished textbook of endless wisdom. In every match, in every press conference, in every interview – there was always something to learn from him. His aura of calm, his almost unmatched sense of wit & dry humour when faced with tacky or irrelevant questions, his ability to remain silent in the midst of chaos – there were always some tiny but important values to imbibe from him. His leadership skills were inspiring, innovative, and immaculate. His non-traditional captaincy meant he’d often hand the ball to a bowler you absolutely would not back as a viewer. He could suddenly push a batsman up the order and entrust him with pulling the team out of a tricky situation. He trusted his players fully, and for the most part, magically, his faith in them was repaid.
Ah, faith. Another important facet in this bond between fan and player.
You see, there was this almost unbreakable level of trust I had begun to have in him – no matter what happened, as long as Mahendra Singh Dhoni was on the field, we were going to be okay. When MS Dhoni batted, I had faith we’d win. When he was keeping wickets, I had faith a quick stumping was around the corner. When he made a fielding change, I had faith our next wicket was upon us. Whether he was leading my home IPL team, Chennai SuperKings, or the Indian Team, onto the field, I had faith we would emerge victorious; or at the very least, give it our absolute best.
With MS Dhoni, I always had faith.
I haven’t the slighest clue when “I’m a fan of MS Dhoni” turned into “I want to be like MS Dhoni”. But it did…and it never changed.
His life story is one of resilience, patience, and integrity. He epitomizes what it means to be a hardworker, and he’s relentless in his pursuit to be better. His biopic has been a movie I return to, on countless occasions, for a dose of courage and motivation. But his birthday this year remains a bittersweet event, with the untimely passing of Sushant Singh Rajput – the man who so effortlessly portrayed Dhoni on-screen.
I’ve often written about how there’s a scene in that, at the train station, where life advice is imparted to him in the form of cricket analogies. But there’s another scene in particular that I always think of every time I decide to honour my own pace in life. It’s a scene where his friends and he are watching the 2003 World Cup Final. When Australian fast-bowling great, McGrath, takes the wicket of Tendulkar, Dhoni walks away to the kitchen to make some chai for his friends. While he stands there, he overhears his friends say “Yuvraj and Kaif made it to the squad but why is our Mahi still not a part of the team?”. A small, sad smile forms upon his face as he quietly listens.
For me, personally, I’ve found that most things I’ve worked towards achieving in life have come slowly and after facing looming uncertainty at every step of the way. There have been umpteen phases in my life where I’ve felt like everyone around me is mid-way through the race track while I’m still left struggling to tie my shoe laces at the starting point.
But ever since I watched that scene in 2017, every time I’m left questioning my timing in life, I think to myself, “Hey, it took time for MSD too. It’ll be okay. I’ll bounce back just like he did.”
And bounce back he did, with pomp and panache. The only Indian captain to win all major ICC events, he also went on to hold the record for most wins by an Indian captain in ODIs and T20Is, and most back-to-back wins by an Indian captain in ODIs. That “one of the best moments of my life” I mentioned at the start of this piece? It was the infamous World Cup winning helicopter shot six he hit for a six over long-on in 2011. Under his captaincy, India held the test mace for the first time ever. He led the Chennai Superkings to three IPL titles.
I could go on and on. No, really, I could!
But it isn’t his list of victories and achievements that has sustained my respect and admiration for him. Someone, someday, will eventually break all his records. Records are meant to be broken. But the values of integrity, unending persistence, dignified silence, camaraderie, and patience that I get to learn from him to this day – those can never be broken. Or replaced. Just how Mahendra Singh Dhoni can never be replaced. Not in essence anyway.
But despite having been in the public eye for well over a decade, what he is like in his true essence remains unbeknownst to us. We will never know the real MSD; not fully anyway. For all that I seem to think I know about him, there’s an obvious, unknown side of his life. Yes, we know of his love for dogs and sports bikes. We know he adores all things nature-related. We know, through a Suresh Raina interview, that he does indeed get angry and annoyed at times on the field – he just chooses to show it when the cameras are not on him. We see the beautiful, pure and unconditional love he has for his daughter, Ziva. We see a caring husband, a loyal son, and a protective brother. We know he still spends time with his childhood friends and plays gully cricket with them.
We know and see all of it, and yet the enigma of Mahendra Singh Dhoni only grows…
But I want to go back to Ziva Dhoni here. Through her, we have seen why Dhoni remains a class apart. In the videos where they speak and sing in different languages, in the photos of them spending time with birds, in the time he spends teaching her how to ride a bike; in all of it we see MSD for who he really is – a world-cup winning captain, who carried the expectations of a billion people for years, being happiest and most content trying to fulfil the dreams and expectations of one tiny human.
There was a moment after Chennai Superkings won the IPL title, for the third time, in 2018, that I will never forget. The entire team and staff were rejoicing, taking team photos, and everyone wanted to have a few moments holding the cup. Amidst the chaos and the loud celebrations, in the background stood infamous “Captain Cool”, playing and prancing about with a three-year-old Ziva; oblivious to the world around him, unaffected by yet another feat he’d just achieved, content in his little bubble of joy.
To me, that is what ultimate success looks like. To me, that moment epitomizes the legacy of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A small-town boy, who dreamt with open eyes and conquered the world but never once let the world conquer him, his decisions, or his happiness.
Like I said, I haven’t the slightest clue when “I’m a fan of MS Dhoni” turned into “I want to be like MS Dhoni”. But it did…and it never changed. And I hope and pray it never does!
Happy 39th, you wonderful man. Thank you for adding so much magic to my life.