Calcutta, Feb. 13: Pakistan International’s flight PK341 had just about touched down in Karachi when some passengers ignored the safety instructions and made a dash for where Harbhajan Singh was sitting. The offie had been in demand before and during that flight from Faisalabad, too.
Seeing the commotion, Mahendra Singh Dhoni grinned and told The Telegraph: “Some weeks remain, but when this tour ends, hum Bhajji ko Pakistan chod jayenge. Itna popular hai, they will definitely accept him.”
After Dhoni’s MoM award-winning effort (an unbeaten 72 off 46 balls) in the ODI at the Gaddafi this evening, the Pakistanis won’t mind accepting him ' Kamran Akmal notwithstanding. In any case, the gentleman calling all the shots, President Pervez Musharraf, has become a fan of his.
In a break from tradition, Musharraf (also chief patron of the Pakistan Cricket Board) spoke at the presentation ceremony and made special mention of Dhoni’s distinctive hair style. “I saw a placard which said ‘Dhoni have a hair cut’. If you want to take my opinion, you look good.... Don’t have a hair cut.”
Now, even if Dhoni wants a new look, no hair stylist in Pakistan is going to oblige. Can’t, after all, risk a knock from any of the President’s men.
Musharraf, of course, again showed he was a terrific sport by warmly congratulating India for the thumping five-wicket win (292 for five in 47.4 overs, chasing 289) which gave a 2-1 lead: “I would like to congratulate you for playing exceptionally well. You deserved to win and it was a pleasure watching. Irrespective of who wins the next two matches, we would like interesting cricket.”
He had words of comfort for Inzamam-ul Haq (for example, “never get demoralised”), but the Pakistan captain has been having a poor series and some decisions have been baffling ' or “moronic”, as Imran Khan put it. The batting order is one. The misplaced faith in Rana Naved-ul Hasan being the other.
Shoaib Malik’s 108 went in vain, but Sachin Tendulkar’s 95 wasn’t wasted. If the Sachin-Yuvraj Singh partnership brought India right back, the in-form Yuvraj’s collaboration with Dhoni shut out Pakistan. Unseparated, they added 102 for the sixth wicket, with Yuvraj not out on 79.
Among other things, Dhoni landed in Pakistan with two objectives: Help win (at least a match) and send the ball out of the park. He achieved the latter first, during last month’s Faisalabad Test, when he smashed Danish Kaneria out of the Iqbal Stadium. The other he realised today, in front of thousands who crossed the Wagah simply to cheer and break into the bhangra.
Incidentally, this evening’s MoM award was Dhoni’s third overall and first overseas.
Dhoni made Rana in particular pay for all the sledging by Shoaib Akhtar (not to talk of his beamer), Shahid Afridi and Mohammed Sami in Faisalabad. They’d made life difficult, but Ranchi’s beta No. 1 counter-attacked furiously for a career-best 148.
While Dhoni’s exploits with the bat are making bold headlines, the ongoing tour has also seen him mature as a wicketkeeper. He wasn’t off the mark when he acknowledged that doing well with the bat gets reflected in the ’keeping.
Dhoni believes in destiny, but it’s strange that our national selectors were so reluctant to give him a break ' both in ODIs (December 2004) and in Test cricket (December 2005).