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Since 1st March, 1999
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Thought the ball would elude Sree: Dhoni

Mumbai: Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s mind is as uncluttered as his swashbuckling strokeplay.

“We treated every match as a new match. We played the final too as a new match… What is more important is that we believed in each other,” said the wicket-keeper-batsman upon arrival from South Africa on Wednesday, revealing Team India’s secret of success in the ICC World Twenty20.

Dhoni, who is set to lead India against Australia in the ODI series next week, was as unassuming at a rapturous reception at the Wankhede Stadium as he was in match presentation interviews during the Twenty20 world meet.

A huge roar echoed around the stadium packed with an estimated 32,000 fans each time he replied to questions.

Explaining the new found “fearlessness” in the Indian team, Dhoni said: “We were relaxed. In the first team meeting, we decided that we want to enjoy this format of the game. No one was talking about us making it to the knockout round (in South Africa) especially after the unexpected exit from the World Cup. Lesser the expectations, more the determination (to do well),” Dhoni said, choosing to speak in Hindi.

Asked what was going through his mind when Pakistan batsman Misbah-ul Haq scooped the ball to Sreesanth, Dhoni said, “I wasn’t watching Sreesanth.

“I was watching his hands. I knew that the ball did not have enough pace, but my initial fear was whether the ball would land beyond Sreesanth. My eyes were focused on his hands and whether the ball goes in.”

Dhoni’s forthright answers have got him more fans during the last two weeks. Asked why small town cricketers were increasingly making it to the national team, the Jharkhand cricketer shot back matter-of-factly: “Small town boys are tougher mentally, physically than the cricketers living in metros.

“In metros, the cricketing infrastructure and facilities are good. In small towns, a cricketer has to work really hard to succeed. This team is made of cricketers who have a desire to play at the international level.”

Sharing his experience of captaining a national side for the first time in a big tournament like the ICC World Twenty20, Dhoni said, “a bit of nervousness when you are playing international cricket is bound to creep in. All 15 players performed well. Whenever I gave the ball to someone, he responded with a wicket.

“When they came out to bat, they scored runs. As a result, there was not so much pressure on me as a captain. We had faith in each other.”

Looking straight into the crowd jostling for space in the stands named after Vijay Merchant, Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, Dhoni assured that he and his team would continue working hard, and try to win each match in the upcoming seven-ODI series against Australia starting Saturday. Pakistan are scheduled to tour India in late October to play three Tests and five ODIs.

Asked when did he realise the magnitude of the team’s achievement, Dhoni said, “When we won the meet, we knew it’s big. When we arrived here, we had a different feeling. When we landed at the Mumbai airport, we realised that it is not just big for us, it is big for the janata.”

Dhoni also showed that he could be witty. “They say Mumbai is a city that never stops. But, I think we brought Mumbai to a standstill,” he said, smiling. Asked if Sreesanth’s on-field antics made him a bit tense during the matches, Dhoni quipped, “Not a bit. Bahut jyada tension. But every team needs a man like him!”

Dhoni thanked the crowds for the rapturous reception. “We realised it was this big only after we reached here. It is an outstanding feeling, and cannot be expressed in words. Looking at the people who lined the streets, we realised that so many people were happier than us who won the World Cup trophy,” he said, showing off the Twenty20 trophy to the crowds.

Earlier, BCCI chief Sharad Pawar and Maharashtra deputy chief minister RR Patil presented Dhoni and his team with cheques of Rs 80 lakh each for bringing the trophy home.

In addition, Yuvraj Singh was given a cheque of Rs 1 crore for his six sixes record, and keys to a brand new Porsche 911. RP Singh was also gifted a Mercedes for his outstanding bowling.

Pocketing cheques of Rs 15 lakh each was the support staff which included not just bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad, fielding coach Robin Singh, and tour manager Lalchand Rajput, but also the administrative manager Sunil Dev, physio John Gloster, physical trainer Greg King, masseur Ramesh Mane, tickets and bags coordinator Russel Radhakrishnan and computer analyst Dhananjay.

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