Ranchi: On Wednesday evening, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni slipped behind the wheel of his Land Rover at the Birsa Munda airport and drove home.
It was a quick getaway.
On Thursday afternoon, Dhoni was behind the wheel once again, but in a Hummer (a rare sight on Indian roads), when he turned up at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA)’s International Stadium.
India’s practice was from 4.00 pm, 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, headed for the playing area.
Among those present during Dhoni’s ‘inspection’ of the dressing room were the JSCA president, Amitabh Choudhary, and Sanjay Singh, a vice-president.
Dhoni informally spoke to The Telegraph, in the dressing room area and later. He came across as relaxed with a capital R.
That can’t augur too well for England.
The following are excerpts
Q You made a surprise visit to the stadium late on Wednesday...
A 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 in its completed form?
Actually, the first look was when we were about to land on Wednesday... Looked stunning.
What are your impressions now?
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. It’s a feel-good stadium.
A ‘skywalk’ is planned for 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 even better, so also stadiums and facilities.
Did you expect such a massive crowd to greet you and your teammates on Wednesday 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. And I’ve been doing so for quite some time.
The final one... Do you actually get to drive in and around Ranchi at the speed you’d like 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. Except for one or two, only members of his immediate family were present at home then.