MS Dhoni has showed a knack for the dramatic in how he goes about his game, and the reason for this is probably that he has led a life which can give fair competition to the raciest of thrillers. For example, when Dhoni and three of his friends were taking a road trip from Ranchi to Agartala in a race against the clock for him to reach in time for his first Duleep Trophy match in 2001, a huge step for the promising 20-year old, any weaker heart might have wilted when the car engine gave its first sputter.
The reason for this unorthodox way of making one’s way into domestic cricket limelight, as opposed to the more conventional route with the rest of the team by air, can be pinned down to the bureaucratic disorganisation of cricket in the country. As is said in Dhoni’s hometown, "If one Indian crab tries to climb out of the jar, nine others will pull it down."
An 18-year-old Dhoni had made his first class debut for Bihar in the 1999-2000 season, and played his coming-of-age knock the next season, in January 2001 against Bengal. The 19-year-old played an innings beyond his years, protecting his tail-enders admirably on way to a maiden FC century, 114 not out, helping his side earn a respectable draw from a position where it had looked like an innings defeat was imminent.
A shock call-up made useless by CAB’s incompetenceHe was included in the East Zone side in the 2001 Duleep Trophy, a shock call-up considering his lack of experience. But his matchwinning ability had been evident from his earliest cricketing days, and selectors saw a potential investment. This was also a big opportunity, because most India cricketers would be featuring in that edition of the tournament, in preparation for the 2001 tour by Australia.
However, the shambolic state that Cricket Association of Bihar was in meant that they had no way of knowing or had no intention to convey this news to Dhoni. News did not reach Ranchi of this call-up in any way, till it was too late to join the rest of the team in Kolkata, who were taking a flight to Agartala.
It was Dhoni’s friend Paramjit Singh, a.k.a Chhotu Bhaiyya, who got the news first, and with 20 hours left before the match would start, collected money and hired a Tata Sumo and drove it towards their destination. Among the two other friends in that car was Gautam Gupta, Dhoni’s future brother-in-law.
The car broke down on the highway, however, and Deep Dasgupta was played as East Zone wicket keeper against South Zone.
Conspiracy theories have said that the Bengal-dominated East Zone could not afford to drop Dasgupta at that stage – he had already played Tests, and an important international series was coming up.
Might it have been that it was this that stopped the news from reaching Dhoni in time? Considering the dearth of Indian wicketkeepers at that time, might Dhoni have come up with something in that match to be called up to the India team for the Australia series?
What happened after the Agartala matchDhoni was not able to reach his team in time for the first match, but travelled with the team to Pune for the second match against West Zone. He was 12th man in that match, but had at least one dream fulfilled. Sachin Tendulkar, who scored a match-winning 199 not out for West Zone, asked for some water from Dhoni during a drinks break.
He had to turn his mind to practical matters after this match, however, and was signed up to work for South Eastern Railways as a ticket examiner, by worth of what he added to their cricket side. He was known to be irregular at work, and was once served a notice by his employers.
Dhoni had to wait before he would get an opportunity at such a big stage again, before three years of steady progress earned him a spot in the India A side that played in Kenya. He was named Man of the Series and the nation was suddenly aware of the prospect of a long-haired wicketkeeper who could play for the country soon, someone who could run very fast between the wickets and who could hit the ball out of stadiums.
National selector Pranab Roy put his weight behind the Bihar (later Jharkhand) youngster, having spotted something special during his days of umpiring at the junior level while Dhoni was coming up through the ranks. Within a year of that tri-series in Kenya, Dhoni had earned an India cap.
It is funny when luck is ascribed to some of Dhoni’s victories, because luck has not always been his best friend.