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Thursday , January 17 , 2013
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Dinner date before debut

Ranchi, Jan. 16: Ab main kaise haath milaun? Yeh sab bouquet jo hain...”

That was India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni to a well-wisher, apparently an airline employee, who’d sneaked past the security cordon in the new terminal at the Birsa Munda Airport.

The well-wisher, though, didn't give up and, eventually, managed to touch Dhoni’s left forearm.

If Sourav Ganguly is the Prince of Calcutta, a title bestowed by Geoffrey Boycott, then Dhoni is King in these parts.

Born and brought up here, Dhoni was weighed down by bouquets as soon as he entered the building around 5.10pm, walking behind some of the England players and a couple of his teammates.

Bouquets from the Amitabh Choudhary-headed Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA), the Airports Authority of India and a private carrier which ferried the teams from Kochi.

Handing over one of the bouquets to this reporter (“I need your help”), Dhoni told The Telegraph: “Feels really good to be in my hometown... It’s a different feeling this time, because I’ll be captaining India in Ranchi... I’ve hardly played here as most of the domestic matches used to be at the Keenan in Jamshedpur.”

Come Saturday and the JSCA will host an ODI after almost seven years, but this time at its own eye-catching ground.

Asked if his parents would actually be at the JSCA International Stadium, during the first India game in Jharkhand”s capital, Dhoni replied: “I don’t know... I haven’t spoken to them about it... Usually, they don’t come to the ground... Of course, Sakshi may be there.”

(The JSCA has, by the way, already delivered “adequate complimentaries” to Dhoni’s family. Sanjay Singh, a vice-president, did the needful yesterday.)

Wife Sakshi hasn’t been travelling, but the past couple of days have, it seems, largely been spent overseeing preparations for the team dinner being hosted at home tonight.

With a first here just days away, the average Ranchiite is more focused on the ODI than on the political shenanigans.

Everybody wants to be at the JSCA international stadium and Choudhary, who is the state’s special secretary, home, and an additional DGP, is neck deep with requests/demands for “passes”.

One was a witness to, among others, “marshals” from the state Assembly pleading for complimentaries.

The requests/demands can only get worse over the next two days.

There were thousands outside the new terminal, many with the India Tricolour, to greet the teams. In fact, many more lined the rather narrow roads from the airport to the swanky Radisson Blu.

The crowds caught the eye of Graham Gooch, a former captain who is now England’s batting coach. He asked: “A huge number of people... What is this city and the state best known for, besides Dhoni, that is?”

Political uncertainty, perhaps.

England’s captain Alastair Cook wasn’t quite sure about Dhoni's ties with Ranchi, but when updated, he quipped: “I suppose everybody will then be supporting him!”

Footnote: Rajiv Singh, Tripura’s IGP (law and order) is the Indian team’s local manager. It’s a bit unusual, but he’s known to quite a few of the players.