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Fortune changed, not the man

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SULAGANA BISWAS   |   Published 04.04.11, 12:00 AM

Ranchi, April 3: “He played with my youngest son Rakesh. Children play…I never paid much attention.”

It is perhaps incredible that Bishnudev Prasad Singh of N-Type Mecon Colony could be so blasé. His family stayed opposite N-171, one of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s homes as a child. His father and Mecon employee Paan Singh got various company quarters in the colony. Mahi played cricket at Mecon grounds with other kids like Rakesh, who grew up to do different things in life.

In Rakesh’s case, he is a team leader in a New Delhi MNC. “We studied in the same school. We started playing cricket when I was in Class VI and he in Class VII. He was a wicket-keeper and batsman; I used to bowl and bat,” Rakesh speaks from Delhi. What was he doing during the Sixer Moment? “Watching the game with my friends. They all know that Dhoni and I played cricket together. It was my win, too.”

His father at Ranchi is clearly not a cricket buff. He is more interested in recounting the nine-day wonder of Dhoni’s sister getting married into the wealthy Gupta family in the mid-1990s. “Dhoni’s was not a well-to-do family. So everyone was amazed. Now, Dhoni’s family is so much richer than the Guptas, all thanks to him. It’s all about changing fortunes,” he says.

Fortunes have indeed changed. An N-Type flat is a small, cement box, a far cry from the palatial Shaurya. But the Ranchi man who brought home the Cup after 28 years has not changed, say those who knew him best.

“Mahi has no attitude,” says Rakesh. Agreeing with him is Keshav Ranjan Banerjee (52), sports teacher at DAV Jawahar Vidya Mandir in Shyamali, Dhoni’s school. “He still sends tracksuits through courier every year for our school sports champions on the occasion of our four-day annual function every December from 19-22. I never have to remind him,” says the man who vividly remembers watching the Class VI boy as a goalie on the football grounds.

“I needed to groom a wicket-keeper for my school team. I watched the boy dive and thought, my god, he’s good. Can he catch a cricket ball? The football is bigger and both disciplines need different foot work,” Dhoni’s school coach remembers with a smile.

Dhoni, who played football and badminton well, took to cricket with equal dedication. “Dhoni stands for dedication and discipline. He was a quiet chap and he still speaks little. But for 18 months, he kept working on his wicket-keeping. He was just an 11-year-old,” Banerjee says, adding he last spoke to his most famous student before the South Africa tour in December 2010.

Former director (personnel) of Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) Deval Sahay recounts an interesting anecdote. “Dhoni gets his dedication from his father Paan Singh. In 1984, in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, despite the curfew, Dhoni’s father made arrangements for the watering of Mecon’s turf, because he knew that an important inter-state match would be played there. The son is as loyal to his word.”

In his early and mid-teens, Dhoni was already making a name for himself in inter-school and inter-locality matches. Most would be unregistered tourneys, but great practice on Harmu grounds, archery grounds, Mecon and school maidans.

In 1998, when CCL decided to come up with a sports team, Sahay convinced his then chairman-cum-managing director B. Akla to start a cricket team instead of volleyball planned earlier. Sahay personally roped in young Dhoni, then in Class XI, at a monthly stipend of Rs 1,800. The corporate scholarship would last for four years.

It was during this period where the lanky youngster, known for playing in the local Commando cricket team, became a professional. In 1998-99, he played for Bihar in the Ranji team. In the 2000-01 season, he scored his maiden century in first class cricket against Bengal at Eden.

He’s still close to other local coaches such as Chanchal Bhattacharya and Adil Hussain, and friend-cum-bhaiya Paramjeet Singh, who’s a well-to-do businessman and initially helped him with money for kits and tours.

“Around six months ago, he came to watch an Inter-Coal India match at Mecon and asked me how the youngsters were shaping up. He’s that kind of a guy,” says Sahay.

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