When you drive into Visakhapatnam, one of the first things you’ll see is a slightly disconcerting signpost that reads: Kolkata 859 kilometres. You have to wonder why, in this scenic seaside town in Andhra Pradesh, is there a road sign pointing to the far away eastern capital city of West Bengal.
The road might be far, but it’s one that’s well travelled, especially this time of the year, when the Pujo holidays prompt Bengalis to set off in large groups to Vizag. On the beach, at resorts, in shopping malls, Bangla is the dominant language you hear.
What the signpost does not tell you, however, is how far Ranchi is, but, for at least one man from Jharkhand, this venue has special significance. And for another from Jamshedpur, hope floats that he can emulate the man all of India looks up to.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is now the flavour of the day in every commercial, and is firmly ensconced as India captain, but it was here in Vizag in 2005, that Dhoni scored his first ODI century, and caught the eye. Saurabh Tiwary, Dhoni’s long-haired statemate who likes to give the ball a thump, has no problem being called a Mahi clone, and is hoping to make a name for himself, what with senior players resting from this three-match series.
In 2005, Dhoni’s innings was one of pure brutality, 148 violent runs coming against a shell-shocked Pakistani team, who lost by 58 runs on a day where 654 runs were scored. It was only Dhoni’s fifth knock for India, and it showed the world just what he was capable of.
Dhoni, who indicated earlier that there could be a slot in the World Cup squad for a "hard-hitting batsman lower down the order" will be hoping Tiwary is the man to answer the call.
"It is good to have somebody from Jharkhand playing with me. It is slightly tougher if you are from a small state to come up and represent your country," explained Dhoni. "It’s good to have him in the side. He is an aggressive character. He is young and wants to play the cricket that he knows. He has backed himself and is hard working and has spent a lot of time at the nets."
Just for his looks and gait Tiwary has been likened to Dhoni, but the India captain revealed that he saw shades of himself as a youngster in Tiwary. "I was also quite the same when I started off," said Dhoni, adding half jocularly, "like me, he doesn’t like going to the gym and eats a lot."
But don’t be fooled by the jokes. While Tiwary’s IPL feats for the Mumbai Indians might have caught the eye, he has also been a heavy scorer in the Ranji Trophy. In 20 matches Tiwary has 1594 runs at an average of almost 50, with six knocks of 100 or more.
"With proper guidance and a little exposure in international cricketer, Saurabh can be really successful," said Dhoni. And who better to provide that guidance than the skipper himself?