Outside Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore, they were selling posters of Indian cricketers on Friday. For Rs 30 each, you could have Sehwag on your wall, or Dravid. Or, of course, MS Dhoni, referred to in one of the frames as the new ‘sansation’ of Indian cricket.
The guy who wrote the term won't make it to the Spelling Bee, but you cannot deny the validity of his words. India's win in the World Twenty20 has made the 26-year-old the toast of our cricket.
But as the truism goes, reaching number one is one thing, staying there is another (it's almost as tough as getting a reasonable room in Wipro-era Bangalore). Just about five days after leading India to victory in the T20 final, Dhoni will report back to work as captain, this time in the 50-over, seven-match Future Cup against Australia on Saturday. The first match, a day-night encounter, will be played here.
MSD's first battle will be against his own body. Exhaustion was apparent in his otherwise robust limbs in the final. It was his 20th match in about three months since India left for Ireland in June (seven T20s, three Tests, 10 ODIs). Cramping as he was, he couldn't bend to collect a ball and ended up conceding a bye in that climactic game.
On the bus parade through Mumbai, while others stood and danced, Dhoni, for a good part, just sat, looking drained. At the hotel, he excused himself from the party the staff had organised.
Pressure will come from external factors too. The public, their interest in the team revived, will want more success. Fans hung around the stadium on Friday, hoping for a peek at the players. Rationality is not the Indian fan’s forte, certainly not in the heady aftermath of a miracle like the one in the Rainbow Nation. To them only mobile phones need recharging, not cricket stars.
Australia will hold the other pressure hose. Ricky Ponting, the Federer of verbal forehands, said as much. “We will come out as aggressively as we can."
Ponting's intent is not surprising, since India punctured their pride in the semis of the World Twenty20, a tournament they were expected to woo with little more than a smile. Australia already have injuries (Ponting won't play the first few games, Shane Watson and Michael Hussey have been ruled out due to hamstring damage.) They wouldn't want insult.
But it is the Indian dressing room that poses Dhoni his trickiest question. This has been discussed before but doing so again is inevitable because of the fascinating prospect.
Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly are back. How Dhoni handles the delicate task of leading men he grew up admiring will have an impact on his and the team's performance. It will also be interesting to see how much weight the players would give Dhoni's word now that three men of higher stature are back. "To baat simple hain yaar,” Dhoni beams in a soda commercial. But this task might prove harder.
Luckily, he is a sanguine fellow. Not since Kapil Dev has an Indian captain been the non-brooding type. Things don’t appear to weigh 'Mahi' down. It is one of the reasons behind his success.
It is one of the reasons behind the feeling that he will attempt his latest mission too with a smile, although to win it, he will need more than facial wattage.