India's one-day and Twenty20 skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was today conferred with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, making him only the second cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar to be bestowed the country's highest sporting honour.
An expert committee, chaired by Milkha Singh, today met here to discuss the nominees and they chose Dhoni for the award leading India to the Twenty20 World Cup triumph.
Hailing the decision, BCCI President Sharad Pawar said Dhoni is a deserving winner as he has shown exemplary leadership to become an icon for millions.
"Dhoni has been declared the recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the country's most prestigious sports award.
"He has represented the country with distinction, and deserves the honour," Pawar said in the statement.
"His exemplary leadership and demeanour under pressure, especially in the ICC World Twenty20 and the tri-series in Australia, mark him out as the ideal role model for millions of young Indians who want to make a mark in life," he added.
Meanwhile, BCCI Chief Administrative Officer Ratnakar Shetty also lauded the decision.
"On two occasions, we felt let down when Rahul Dravid didn't get Khel Ratna and Yuvraj (Singh) was denied Arjuna. Dravid was in good form, we had won 16 ODIs on the trot and the team was on a high -- still he did not get the award.
"Yuvraj too was unlucky not to get Arjuna after two years of consistent performance. We are happy Dhoni got it," Shetty told 'Times Now' channel.
Shetty said what impressed him most about Dhoni was the way he conducted himself.
"What I like most about Mahi, apart from his cricket, is the way he leads. He is a cool customer and never gets agitated. I'm also impressed by his clarity of thought," he added.
The wicket-keeper batsman will, however, find it difficult to attend the awards ceremony on August 29 as he would be participating in the upcoming ODI series against Sri Lanka after pulling out from the Test series due to exhaustion.
To his credit, Dhoni has 1,418 runs from 29 Tests and 3,600 runs from 115 one-dayers.
Behind the stumps, the right-hander has taken 186 catches and effected 186 stumpings in Tests and ODIs since making his international debut in 2004.