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Dhoni is on the money!
by Venu Palaparthi
Apr 06, 2005

It is not easy being Dhoni!

Let us get this out of the way – Dhoni did not have it easy! One could argue that nobody has it easy in India anymore (Ganguly jokes apart). Especially when you have Laxman, 2004’s biggest ODI run-getter with four match-winning centuries, sitting it out!

And it is not easy if you start your career like Dhoni did. On December 23rd, 2004, Mahendra Singh Dhoni became the 17th Indian batsman to score a duck in his debut innings against Bangladesh in Chittagong. To add insult to injury, he was only the 5th after Roger Binny, Yograj Singh, Lalchand Rajput and Avishkar Salvi to last only one ball while achieving this dubious distinction. He followed that up with lackluster performance in the second ODI and faced only 2 balls in the third (he hit one for a six). Playing in Hyderabad for India-A in the Hyderabad warm-up match, Dhoni scored just 3 runs.

The law of averages sometimes works against gravity in international cricket. And Dhoni got his rocket fuel along the road to Vizag.

Rags to riches! Turbo-charged!

The 23 year old is different from your text book definition of a cricketer! Firstly, he is decidedly Next Gen! Every bit as Next Gen as Sania Mirza.

Side note: Anybody that is from Uttaranchal and plays for Jharkhand has got to be Next Gen. These two states did not even exist when we were growing up!

Dhoni is all about audacity. His punk rocker image - locks of hair bouncing about - dyed red for good measure. His batting style - between unorthodox and swashbuckling. And a record (even prior to the Vizag ODI) - somewhere between dazzling and maverick!

Surely, Dhoni had it harder than most! Consider this - Dhoni rose to the national side from Jharkhand, a team that “consistently scrapes the bottom in domestic cricket.” Then consider this – he had no big backers. His father was a retired pump operator. Dhoni never finished his undergraduate studies and somehow landed a job as a railway ticket collector in South Eastern Railway. Finally, consider this - Dhoni’s first love at the DAV Shyamali School in Ranchi was goalkeeping. In fact, this is what he did until 1995 when his teacher suggested that he switch to cricket. That teacher should be one of the talent scouts for BCCI!

In any event, by 1996, Dhoni was already playing in the undivided Bihar state under-16 team. He made his debut in the Ranji Trophy national championship in 1999. By 2004, his consistent performance in domestic tournaments, including Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy, caught the eyes of the selectors.

In the 2004 Deodhar Trophy, playing for East Zone as an opening batsman, Dhoni’s scores progressively increased with each match - 25, 40, 65, and 114. His team won all 4 matches. The match winning 114 came against Central Zone. This was the best individual knock of the championship and helped propel the team to post the tournament's record total of 324 for four in 50 overs.

Dhoni followed that up with a memorable knock in March of 2004, when he scored a searing 60 runs off 47 balls in the Duleep Trophy final. East Zone came close to winning this match against all odds. An awestruck reviewer wrote “his bat was hanging dangerously at times but he succeeded in his mission to destroy the seamer's confidence.” The seamer in question was Nehra!

Following these successes, Dhoni was picked for the India 'A' team for the twin tours of Zimbabwe and the triangular one-day series in Kenya.

The Triangular Series in Kenya

The triangular series was to be his breakthrough. He impressed behind as well as in front of the wickets. In the seven match series, he scored 362 runs at 72.4 including two centuries and one half. In the third one-dayer, where India A beat Pakistan A, Dhoni (70) worked with Venugopala Rao (64) to win it for India A. On 16th August, versus Pakistan A, he scored 120 off 122 balls with 10 fours and 2 sixes. In the very next match, also against Pakistan A, Dhoni scored 119 of the side’s total of 236. Here, he hit a total of 14 boundaries including 5 sixes.

Behind the wickets, he held 13 catches and carried out 3 stumpings. He allowed just 3 byes in the entire series! With that kind of performance, the man of the series award had his name written all over it!

The national side at last!

Although he did not have any luck with the bat in Bangladesh towards the end of 2004, he did alright with the gloves. Dhoni still had some work on his hands if he had to justify his captain’s confidence and retain his place on the national side for the Pakistan tour!

Playing in the NKP Salve Challenger Series in February of 2005 for India Seniors led by Ganguly, Dhoni hit a blistering 126 off 124 balls studded with 16 fours and two sixes. He followed that up last month when, in the East Zone/Central Zone Duleep Trophy clash, he took eight catches in a match. It also helped that Ganguly was there watching his keeper.

Competition in the keeping department.

So he can bat. And he can keep. But he still has Dinesh Kaarthick to deal with! Despite the bad spelling of his last name, 19 year old Dinesh is definitely here to stay. Dinesh had a strike rate approaching 200 during the U-19 World Cup and he hit centuries in Ranji Trophy semi-finals as well as finals. What’s more, his acrobatic mid-air stumping of Vaughan is fresh in Ganguly’s minds. Ganguly is known to reward such things.

Some also doubt Dhoni’s ability to keep when Kumble or the Turbanator are bowling. Dhoni agrees that he has a learning curve. “I think there is some scope for improvement in my wicket keeping against spinners, especially a leg-spinner like Anil Kumble,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Just last year, India had good old Dravid help them behind the stumps. Now all of a sudden, they have choice! Choice is a good thing! Especially when the choice is between two thirsty competitors who both want to make a point!

Making a difference when it matters!

As the old saying goes, when you see a fork on a road, you take it. So instead of putting all their money on one keeper, the selectors decided to play Dinesh in the tests and Dhoni on the ODI’s.

First ODI in Kochi was a blur. In Vizag, they sent Dhoni in at number 3! And man! Were they on the money or what!
More Views by Venu Palaparthi
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