Dhaka: Mahendra Singh Dhoni had barely stepped into the Sheraton’s foyer when a burly Arab-American businessman congratulated him for playing “unbelievable shots.”
“Maan, you were too good... You could hit the ball to the areas of your choice... I’ll probably go home and start a cricket club!” the Arab-American, Jad Muntasser from Texas, told Thursday’s MoM.
“Thanks... As you could see, cricket is a bit different from baseball... Let me tell you that the conditions were tough, though,” Dhoni responded.
That’s an understatement.
Indeed, so taxing was the heat and humidity that Dhoni got cramps “everywhere.” As he put it in a chat with The Telegraph, “I cramped everywhere... Koi ek jagah nahin... It was bad...”
The discomfort, however, didn’t stop him from scripting a very special innings — unbeaten 91 — and a terrific (unbroken) 107-run partnership with the just-married Dinesh Karthik, who contributed a handsome 58.
Dhoni, incidentally, got the runs at No. 3. He’s quite fond of batting there and the Sri Lankans will vouch for that: He’d smashed 183 not out against them in Jaipur some 19 months ago.
“I’m comfortable in any position... The team’s requirements come first... It’s probably a coincidence that two of my best knocks have been at No. 3,” Dhoni explained.
Ranchi’s favourite son thanked ‘runner’ Yuvraj Singh for taking “so many singles,” but declined to reflect on the World Cup. He didn’t make a comparison with other top quality innings from his willow either.
Asked whether he’d considered going off, Dhoni replied grinning: “That wasn’t ever an option... I had to keep batting... I couldn’t have sat in the airconditioned comfort of the dressing room...”
This attitude is bound to hold him in good stead if, in the near future, he comes into the picture for the Team India vice-captaincy.
Besides producing the knock of the day, Dhoni came forth with the quote of the day as well.
Reacting to a question about both wicketkeepers coming good at the same time, Dhoni quipped: “There’s healthy competition and it’s for the (specialist) batsmen to worry!”
That he would bat up the order was conveyed to him during the Bangladesh innings itself. “I had time to mentally prepare... Getting ready wasn’t an issue.”
Dhoni’s ODI debut had been in Bangladesh, in December 2004. It was quite ordinary, but he has begun this tour with an impact teams have begun to dread.
Actually, but for Dhoni and Karthik, the Indians could’ve suffered another loss at the hands of Bangladesh. The innings had been in tatters — five for 144 — when they got together.
Earlier, despite the presence of specialist bowling (Venkatesh Prasad) and fielding (Robin Singh) coaches, the Indians bowled badly and were poor on the park.
A more experienced team and a more imaginative captain wouldn’t have allowed such a recovery. Clearly, Habibul Bashar and Co. will forever regret failing to run out Karthik on one (146 for five).
But, as captain Rahul Dravid acknowledged, “every win is a win and we’ll take it.”
About Dhoni and Karthik he said: “Their partnership was really special... In those conditions, after fielding for 47 overs, it was exceptional... They kept the run-rate to within one or two shots and got the boundaries when needed...
“We promoted Dhoni because of the (stiff) target... In his short career, he has shown the ability to think and not play in just one fashion... He has this gift...”
Dravid got a bit cheesed off when a newsman described Karthik as a wicketkeeper.
“He shouldn’t be labelled a ’keeper... Don’t give him a label... He won us the Cuttack ODI (versus the West Indies in January), won us our first Twenty20 International (in South Africa)... He could be anything, but is contributing with the bat.”
Cricket manager Ravi Shastri, whose CV almost got spoiled, observed: “Dhoni and Karthik showed such maturity... To have taken the team to victory from that position... In a similar situation, four-five teams could’ve ended up losing... The young pair showed discipline, concentration, fighting spirit and, above all, self-belief...”
Sure, but there’s no running away from the fact that it was a narrow escape.
Footnote: “I’m not staking a claim to share the MoM award... I’m just relieved that nobody got run out... Had it been Dhoni, because of me, then all of India would’ve been after my blood...” is what ‘runner’ Yuvraj had to say.