Sometime in 2019, late at night, I was surfing through OTT media platforms, hoping to watch something interesting.
Post-midnight, I came across Dhoni-The Untold Story on Hotstar. As surprising as it might sound, given that I am a Ranchi boy, I had somehow never gotten around to watching this movie.
The reason was very simple, I just couldn’t digest the idea of Dhoni breaking into a song, and perhaps even dancing around trees. I found that quite tacky.
But somehow late that night with nothing else to do and sleep eluding me, I finally got around to watching the movie.
I guess everyone who has watched it would know that it starts with the cricket World Cup Final of 2011.
We are shown that Sushant Singh Rajput who played Dhoni in the movie, is in the dressing room at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai watching the match on TV. (And for some reason, only Ravi Shastri seems to be commentating. I told you the movie was tacky).
Two wickets had fallen. Dhoni then goes to speak to the coach, Gary Kirsten, and a conversation in which we just see the side profile of Dhoni and hear the voice of Kirsten, follows.
“Excuse me Gary, if a wicket goes down, I think I should go in,” says Dhoni.
“But Yuvi is padded up and ready,” replies Kirsten.
“No, it’s Murali, I think I should go in.”
“Yes… Just tell him… I’ll… I’ll go,” replies Dhoni.
And then the third wicket falls, with Kohli driving one straight to Dilshan.
Dhoni then walks out to bat, and as soon as he steps on to the ground, the screen freezes and the movie flashes back to July 7, 1981, the day he was born.
As far as movie openings go, it was a terrific opening, the jarring music and a slight tackiness notwithstanding. It clearly establishes that everything that the lead character of the movie had been doing all through his life until that day and until that moment, was working towards walking out to bat for India in a World Cup Final and winning it. If there is something called destiny in life, Dhoni was its best example.
Nothing works in a movie like the feeling of something that is destined to happen. It’s the ultimate underdog story and we all love it.
If one were to summarise Dhoni’s story in a paragraph it would run something like this:
A pump khalasi and a homemaker’s son, who grew up in a public sector steel company colony, in a city which people often used to confuse with Karachi and who had to work as a travelling ticket examiner for the Indian Railways for nearly three years on India’s longest railway platform in Kharagpur, rose to become the captain of the Indian cricket team and hit an unbeaten 91 to win India the cricket World Cup, after a gap of 28 years.
Come what may which other story could have had a better cinematic potential than this?
Not the story of the Bandra-East Shivaji Park boy who broke all batting records, with the country chanting his name everywhere he went.
Not the story of the southpaw from Behala who taught Indian cricketers to go out there and win, even stripping off his t-shirt at the Lords.
Not the story of India’s best bowler, who managed to get an engineering degree while playing cricket, took ten wickets in a test innings and once even bowled with a broken jaw.
Not the story of India’s best test batsman who got nicknamed Jammy because his father once worked for Kisan and who could out-bat everyone at a certain point of time.
Not the story of the Nawab of Najafgarh, who played test matches like an ODI, but, whatever you might say Najafgarh is almost Delhi and not a cricketing backwater like Ranchi.
The romance of Dhoni’s meteoric rise, from being a travelling ticket examiner in 2002-2003 to leading India to a T-20 World Cup win just four years later, can simply not be matched.
The point is that you might have played 200 tests, scored a hundred 100s in international cricket, taken more than 600 wickets or taken more than 200 catches in test matches, you didn’t win a World Cup final by hitting a six, like the way Dhoni did.
You didn’t win the T20 world cup final by getting an almost unknown bowler with no track record at the international level to bowl the last over, like Dhoni did.
You rarely took any match to the last over and then won it, over and over again, like Dhoni did.
You didn’t win India a match simply by running faster and running out the opposition batsman on the last ball of the match, like Dhoni did.
And finally, your football coach wasn’t also your wicket-keeping coach.
When it comes to cricket, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a freak, an oddball of nature and a matter of chance.
And a freak like could have up only from a city like Ranchi, which loved cricket but barely had any conventional cricket coaching available, ensuring that Dhoni kept batting the way he did. Any conventional batting coach would have ruined his batting. And India would have lost out on so much pleasure.
Of course, there were failures along the way as well. And no bigger failure than Dhoni’s last match where he got run out from a super throw by Martin Guptill and India lost the 2019 World Cup semi-final to New Zealand. It was such a heart-breaker, given that we were all used to Dhoni pulling off the unthinkable and winning the game for us.
But then what one wants doesn’t always happen.
India has had greater batsmen who have scored more runs and more centuries than Dhoni.
India has had greater batsmen who have been technically more competent than Dhoni.
In fact, India has even had wicket keepers with a better technique than Dhoni.
And India clearly has had many more better bowlers than Dhoni.
But then none of these gentlemen could hit the helicopter shot, where Dhoni got his front foot out of the way, allowing the bat to come down with great speed at the ball which would have otherwise yorked him, to whip it masterfully over the top of anywhere between long-on to deep mid-wicket, for a huge six.
Ab ye kar ke dikhao?
And when it comes to getting the adrenaline going… that rush… that feeling of ecstasy… that feeling that we are going to win… nobody can beat Dhoni. Absolutely nobody.
I am going to miss him.
(A part of this originally appeared in a Facebook post I wrote in 2019).