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Local hero Mahi returns to fill a sporting void
For Dhoni, stunning stadium a 9 on 10

Ranchi, Jan. 17: Last evening, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni slipped behind the wheel of his Land Rover at the Birsa Munda Airport and drove home. This afternoon, Dhoni was behind the wheel once again, but in a Hummer, when he turned up at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA)’s International Stadium Complex.

India’s practice was from 4pm, but Dhoni came some 40 minutes earlier, to have a look at the world-class facility.

Dhoni first went to one of the dressing rooms (turned out to be for the visiting team!), had a close look at the washroom there and, then, stepped on to the playing area.

Among those present during Dhoni’s “inspection” of the dressing room were JSCA president Amitabh Choudhary and vice-president Sanjay Singh.

Dhoni informally spoke to The Telegraph, in the dressing room area and later. He came across as relaxed with a capital R. The following are excerpts:

TT: You made a surprise visit to the stadium late last night...

Dhoni: I did come, with (wife) Sakshi and Suresh (Raina)... Sadly, the floodlights had been switched off just a few minutes earlier.

So, was that your first look at the stadium in its completed form?

Actually, the first look was while we were about to land last evening... looked stunning.

Well, what are your impressions today?

I find it amazing... It’s particularly nice that the JSCA now has a top-class facility of its own... We’ve played at the Keenan (in Jamshedpur) before, but it’s a matter of pride that Ranchi has its own stadium.

Hopefully, some from the region will start their (India) careers here.

What stands out?

Quite a few things... I like the height at which the dressing rooms are situated... I like the fact that the gym is next to the dressing rooms... Those who don’t play should be at the gym or at the nets. For me, the location of the gym is important.

The walk from the dressing room balcony to the ground is short... Then, there’s no seating area beneath both dressing rooms, which means players will have privacy... I’ve liked the slope, somewhat like the Eden, once you’re on the turf... Talking of the stands, the canopies look lovely.

There’s much to appreciate and the president (Choudhary) has overcome odds.

A “skywalk” is planned, ensuring direct access to the nets from the dressing room area.

Really? That’s great.

So, how many marks would you give the stadium?

Very high marks... Let’s say 9 out of 10. I haven’t given a perfect 10 because even the best can be improved. The good players can become better, so also stadiums and facilities.

Did you expect such a massive crowd to greet you and your teammates last evening?

I’d expected a crowd at the airport, but I certainly didn’t expect thousands to line the roads three-quarters of the way into the city. To see that was humbling.

Is there a message for Ranchiites?

Be proud of what you’ve now got.

You’ve lost weight.

That’s because of playing continuously.

The final one. Do you actually get to drive in and around Ranchi at the speed you want to?

(Laughs) I’m a safe driver!

Postscript: “Good, good,” is how senior pros Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir described the dinner hosted for the team by Dhoni last night. Only members of his immediate family were present at home then.