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Dhoni, and the three weeks that changed the world

Wisden India logo Wisden India 02-10-2016
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Don’t judge a book by its cover, the same sage people who have proclaimed that the face is the index of the mind have told us. It is easy to also imagine, therefore, that they would say, don’t judge a movie by its trailer.

By definition when it comes to multimedia, a trailer is meant to serve as ‘an advertisement, usually in the form of a brief excerpt or string of excerpts, for a media work’. Needless to say, it will contain what the trailer-makers believe are the most attractive, arresting, edifying parts of the longer version. Towards that end, those involved with the multiple teaser-trailers of the Mahendra Singh Dhoni biopic can allow themselves a pat on the back, because a sneak peek into MS Dhoni: The Untold Story has merely stoked the metaphorical hunger.

The one other movie in recent times that hit the screens with as much hype and pre-release publicity as The Untold Story was Kabali, the Rajinikanth starrer that didn’t exactly live up to the expectations of the superstar’s millions of fans. That was a story of make-believe. The Untold Story, released this Friday (September 30), is a real-life narrative that is less about the actor and more about the person on whom it is based, and will consequently make for intriguing viewing, particularly given how zealously Dhoni has guarded his private life despite being the most public of personalities for more than a decade now.

It is no more than coincidental that the movie releases less than a week since the ninth anniversary of Dhoni’s first significant success as the captain of the Indian team. By September 2007, the one-time long-haired unpolished gem had metamorphosed into a more refined individual, a natural crowd-puller with his street-smartness behind the stumps, his electric ball-bashing in front of it, and a demeanour that gave little indication of which of the twin impostors was staring him in the face.

In less than three years with the Indian team, Dhoni had established himself as an almost irreplaceable cog, a massive presence any which way you looked at it. Then came the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa, and Dhoni, Indian and world cricket would never be the same again.

It’s hard to imagine that, nine years back, India were reluctant participants in the World T20, nearly being arm-twisted by the International Cricket Council into agreeing to sign on the dotted line. Such was the thinly-veiled contempt with which the Board of Control for Cricket in India held the format then that all the heavy artillery – Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid – was put in cold storage. Out of the blue, Dhoni was elevated to the captaincy of a team that included Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh of the established lot and a host of other youngsters. The general belief was that India would return home rapidly after due diligence, particularly given their singular lack of familiarity with the 20-over game.

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Not many had known what to make of India’s only Twenty20 International appearance leading into the World T20. At the Wanderers on December 1, 2006, India had overpowered South Africa by six wickets, though they did make heavy weather of a modest target of 127, only getting there with one ball to spare. The Bullring was packed to the rafters when Sehwag and Graeme Smith walked out for the toss – Dravid was out injured – and noise levels reached a crescendo with every delivery. There was as much support for India as there was for the home side in Tendulkar’s only T20I appearance, though my abiding memory remains the white ball standing out starkly against the night sky as it sailed miles over midwicket once Albie Morkel decided Harbhajan had to go.

With the experience of that one solitary game, India came into the World T20 with everyone – maybe even the players, one is not sure – fearing the worst. A washout against Scotland, victory in a bowl-out against Pakistan after a fabulous pow-wow ended in a tie, and India was hooked. For a few days, it appeared. First hurdle cleared, now just the formalities remained in the next stage as Dhoni’s men were clubbed with New Zealand, England and South Africa.

Defeat to New Zealand, by 10 runs, suggested that victory against Pakistan would remain the highlight of India’s campaign. Oh it was, yes, but not the bowl-out victory, of course!

Yuvraj. Broad. Six sixes. South Africa. Qualification. Choke. Yuvraj. Australia. 70 in 30 in the semis. Sreesanth. Smashing the pitch after cleaning up Hayden. India in final, against Pakistan. INDIA IN FINAL.

Feisty Gambhir. Mercurial Misbah. Inspired India. Passionate Pakistan. Magician Mahendra. Joker in the pack Joginder. A Misbah mis-scoop, into Sreesanth’s hands at 45, and the late entrants had crashed the party. As the support staff and the selectors on tour Usain-ed to the middle, as Dhoni held the cup aloft, as we watched on stunned and speechless from the press box, as the fans celebrated in the stands and back home in India, no one had even the tiniest inkling that those three weeks were to change the cricketing landscape inexorably. Would the Indian Premier League have become what it is today if not for those memorable three weeks? Would India have established itself as the unofficial home of Twenty20 cricket?

Slideshow: Know your captain - MS Dhoni

Know your captain: MS Dhoni MS Dhoni: Life in pictures

Yet, as September 25, 2016, came and went, the ninth anniversary of that memorable night went largely unnoticed, unheralded, uncelebrated. In the euphoria of India’s 500th Test and the 30th anniversary of the Tied Test, in the before-glow of another imminent home victory and another feather in the Virat Kohli cap. And, they tell us, India doesn’t care much for Test cricket, that the Indian board (as it used to be, of course) is driven by the Twenty20 monster, that not even 13 home Tests in one single season counts for much.

The World T20 triumph of 2007 is hardly an untold story. Far from it. But if it has gone largely untold this year, then fret not. The Untold Story will more than make up for it, one suspects.

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