Unmasking the man The MS Dhoni edition
Unmasking the man

Decoding Dhoni

No one says no to Sourav Ganguly. At least not when he’s trying to make your cricket career.

But a young MS Dhoni didn’t get that memo. Asked to play for Kolkata by the Prince himself, a 20-year-old Mahi declined the offer and continued on with his Jharkhand team.

Because young or old, pre-India debut or semi-retired, MS Dhoni has managed to always ensure one thing – that he stays true to himself.

MS Dhoni does what MS Dhoni wants.

Lucky for Indian cricket though, there was a time when our former captain wasn’t as bullheaded about his ambitions. At least not when he was 12. At least not when it came to his choice of sport.

The story is only too well documented, but the start of Dhoni’s cricket career also perhaps gives one the greatest insight on the reason behind his decade-long success. A goalkeeper in his school football team, a young Mahiwas recruited by the cricket coach as a stand-in wicket keeper for a match. ‘Chance milega kya?’ he famously asked, just wanting to play. Any sport. Anywhere.

As a young boy, Dhoni never really dreamed of becoming an Indian cricketer, let alone the captain, or a World Cup winner, or a legend. But it all came his way, in dollops, because again, MS Dhoni does what MS Dhoni wants. Be it fighting his father to risk his job as a train ticket collector to play cricket or dropping senior players from the Indian team to make way for future match-winners. No decision would have been easy, but all made with a calm head and logic that is his very own. Luck wasn’t too far from the mix, either.

But for a man who has spent over a decade in the spotlight, the above anecdotes and few others would be all that's known about his private life. In the age of one-Virat-selfie-a-day, MS Dhoni still manages to do what MS Dhoni wants. Younger match-winners are now waiting to pounce on any chance he gives them for his spot, but the former skipper is unfazed. Strong as ever, at his spot in the order and behind the wickets.

However, how much more is there to MS Dhoni beyond the game? What does he like? Where does he spend his time? Hell, what bikes does he ride? The Quint's decided to give you a one-stop answer to all those questions.

Dhoni the patriot

Dhoni, The Patriot

Indians hold cricketers in very high regard as they do their army-men. Thus, the combination of Mahendra Singh Dhoni the legendary cricketer (I think I can call him that now) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni the military-man is a deadly one.

Born and brought up in Ranchi, Dhoni was really fond of everything about the military.

In April 2011, he went on to lead the Indian cricket team to a historical win in the World Cup and to his delight, was thereafter awarded the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel by the Indian Territorial Army on 1 November 2011.

In an interview to All Out Cricket, Dhoni said:

"From when I was a young boy, I read books on weapons and tanks and combat. I was so interested in the army. Then later, my profile as an Indian cricketer allowed me access to the real thing so I spent time with soldiers, learning about their lives and sacrifices."

"I had friends in the Special Forces and heard their stories of missions, the risks they take, the commitment they must have to succeed. I met the chief of the Army Staff and told him about my lifelong fascination with the military. I asked if it was possible to become involved myself. Incredible as it may seem, he took a recommendation through various channels that finished up with the president of the country. The result of all this is that I became an honorary lieutenant colonel in the Parachute Regiment.”

In the span of his glorious career, Dhoni was always a really private person who chose not to speak about anything but cricket. However, one could notice in his interviews that he spoke rather passionately about the armed forces.

During his first official trip as a military personnel to the forward area of the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu region and Siachen in June 2012, Dhoni made it clear that while he would love to “actively” serve in the army, cricket would always be first priority as it’s something he’s “good at” (and the reason why he got here).

The military side of Dhoni’s life has not been highlighted much, but we believe the cricketer took his duties towards the nation very, very seriously. He even went on to say in an interview to All Out Cricket that the proudest moment of his life was not winning the 2011 World Cup, but accepting the rank of honorary lieutenant colonel in the Parachute Regiment.

“I had the choice of four regiments but chose a fifth, the Parachutes, because it is a hundred percent volunteer regiment. They are derived from the British SAS — an incredible unit, you know — and I felt I would be able to contribute more with them later in life. I believe I know enough to justify the honour and was worthy of it.”

Even after he became the first non-Australian captain to win 100 ODI matches during the 2015 World Cup in March, he hadn’t become too big for his boots. He wrote to the concerned authorities expressing his wish to undertake military training. In August 2015, Dhoni underwent a two-week initial training with the elite Para regiment of the force in Agra.

And on 27 September 2016, the nation looked on as the then star-captain of the Indian cricket team jumped out of a plane in his army uniform.

Here’s ‘Nervous’ Lt Col MS Dhoni’s First Jump From an IAF Aircraft

The then limited-overs skipper MS Dhoni, also an honorary lieutenant colonel in 106 Parachute Regiment, had jumped off an Indian Air Force AN-32 aircraft with a canopy static line parachute to land at the Malpura dropping zone, Agra ...

We won’t be surprised to see the man, deemed as one of the greatest finishers in modern day cricket, playing a second innings in the Army after retiring.

highest average in successful run chases
 Most not outs successful run chases
Most matches as captain keeper
the number game

The Numbers Behind The Man

MS Dhoni has accomplished a lot in his career. As a batsman, he has scored runs against the best in business, with the wicketkeeping gloves on he holds the record for most stumpings in international cricket, and as a captain he has led India to three ICC titles and on the Test cricket front led India to win the ICC Test Championship.

For all his accomplishments and successes, three things about the man stand out for the statistician in me: 1) his fitness levels, 2) his decision-making skills as captain, and 3) the fact that he never let success change him.

From the time he made his India debut, until his retirement from Test cricket in December 2014, India had played 104 Tests, 293 ODIs and 53 T20Is. MS Dhoni had featured in a staggering 87 percentage of those 450 matches. Not to forget, he also played several matches outside international cricket. For a wicketkeeper – which is perhaps the most demanding job in cricket - to play so much cricket, and yet not miss too many matches speaks volumes about Dhoni’s fitness levels.

most matches played

In the period since Dhoni’s international debut until his retirement from Test cricket, Dhoni played in a total of 565 representative matches across all formats and all competitions – these include warm-up matches on tours, Indian Premier League and Champions League T20 matches. That puts Dhoni among the top five busiest cricketers in the period – note that he was the only one who kept wickets on a regular basis among those top five cricketers.

What makes Dhoni’s feats special is that he was also captain for most part of that period. While wicket-keeping by itself is a demanding job, Dhoni also wore the hat of the captain and the team’s finisher, and yet to stay so fit physically, and be so alert mentally all the time, illustrates Dhoni’s supreme fitness levels and his commitment levels.

MS dhoni's record as captain

The second thing that has stood out for in Dhoni’s career was how successful he was as captain. For a small town boy to lead India is a huge challenge, but Dhoni passed that test with flying colours; he is India’s most successful captain in international cricket – leading India to more wins in all three formats than any other captain previously.

I am a huge fan of Dhoni’s captaincy, especially in the T20 format, where he has been proactive all the time and several steps ahead of the opposition. T20s are similar to rapid chess, where one wrong move can cost a player a match. So too in the T20 format, there is very little scope for error; one wrong move and it could all go pear shaped for the team. But Dhoni generally got his calls right in T20 cricket. And whenever he got the opportunity, he’d strangle his opponents down.

The one other thing that I have liked about Dhoni is his personality; no matter all the success, he remains the same person he was when he started playing cricket for India. Despite all these years of playing cricket, his levels of commitment are still the same whenever he takes the field. Off the field too, he still carries that smile and is approachable. And finally, despite all the successes, he has not been the one to bask during moments of glory, but has generally slipped to the sides to remain one of the boys.

An encounter with the other dhoni

An Encounter With The ‘Other’ Dhoni

In August of 2004, 23-year old Mahendra Singh Dhoni grabbed India’s sporting consciousness by the collar. Playing for India ‘A’ against Pakistan ‘A’ and Kenya in a triangular tournament in Nairobi, the long haired boy from a cricketing outpost produced innings of such eye catching brutality that his claim for promotion to the game’s higher echelons became impossible to ignore. Less than six months later he made his India debut. A little under three years later he was at the helm of a combative young team that snatched the title at the inaugural World T20 in South Africa. In the decade that followed, he became an enduring Indian icon.

But what is the man beyond the milestones, landmarks and litany of awe-inspiring records really like? Frankly, it is hard to tell. Very early into his time in the international game, Dhoni decided to cocoon himself from the inevitable spotlight that chases a superstar. He understood the world around him would not be normal, but Dhoni embraced an eerie normality in the running of his life.

More than anything else, journalists crave access. Dhoni was a shut shop. He would be endearingly friendly at press conferences but rarely available beyond the requirements of his role as captain. His uneasy relationship with mobile phones became the stuff of legend.

Remember the time VVS Laxman’s repeated attempts to contact Dhoni to inform him of his decision to retire ended in failure and spawned a news cycle of ridiculous conspiracy theories. When asked about it later, all Dhoni did was guffaw self deprecatingly, chiding himself by saying he was “trying to improve but not improving” in this area!

On occasion though, very rarely, Dhoni would dismantle these self-imposed barriers. For instance, I distinctly remember hosting the launch for then colleague Vimal Kumar’s book on Sachin Tendulkar in Delhi. Dhoni not only agreed to participate, but was generous with his time and charmed the room with his easy humour. Anecdotes of sharing a dressing room with his childhood hero and later captained captivated the small audience in attendance.

We learnt of a faltering first encounter with Tendulkar in a Duleep Trophy match where as 12th man for the opposition team, Dhoni was tongue-tied when Tendulkar asked for a drink. We were told of how he continued to be “shy” when speaking to Tendulkar away from the field despite many years of being colleagues and sharing a dressing room. He spoke of the pride of learning that he had Tendulkar’s endorsement when the selectors considered his candidacy as captain.

Dhoni insightfully described their association as co-plotters in the course of games. “Shall I bowl leg spin, or off spin, or seam up?” Tendulkar would ask his keeper-captain. Dhoni would ease up enough over time even to reject suggestions from the legend, secure in the knowledge that their bond is strong enough for Tendulkar not to be affronted. Sure enough, minutes later they would be discussing a new ploy.

“You write in the book that watching Tendulkar play you are just glad he decided wicket-keeping was not his thing,” I asked. “Nahin to aapke pet pe laat hoti.” (It would be a grave danger to your place in the side)

“Laat nahin, missile hota,” Dhoni laughed, sending the audience into hysterics.

“When you finish playing cricket, do you see yourself as being friends with Sachin Tendulkar?”



“That’s a difficult one,” Dhoni said after a moment of reflection.

“I find it very difficult to talk to him outside the field unless it’s about cars and bikes. I think the aura that he has, I would find it very difficult.”

Nearly four years on, that evening that has stayed with me. He wasn’t the Indian captain or a modern great himself in that hour or so. He was just another guy in a group of guys chatting about a heroic figure who had inspired him. It was rare, sneak peek into a young man’s mind that had carefully ensured his innate ordinariness didn’t desert him despite the extraordinary world he lived in.

WC 2007
MS dhoni captaincy record ODI
 MS dhoni captaincy record test

This special story is being republished from The Quint's archives on the occasion of MS Dhoni's 36th birthday. The statistics are as of 30 September 2016.

Authors - Shreeda Aggarwal, Rohan Pathak, Mendra Dorjey, Gaurav Kalra and Arun Gopalakrishnan
Video Edit - Hitesh Singh
UI/Ux - Tapan Babbar
Art Production - Jaivardhan Channey
Picture Courtesy - AP, Reuters, PTI
Graphics - Hardeep Singh, Lijumol Joseph, Rahul Gupta

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