On April 2, 2005, incidentally the date Mahendra Singh Dhoni lifted the World Cup six years later, commentators had criticised him for getting out to a slogsweep against Pakistan. They felt he had ruined the impetus India had gained by centurions Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid. It was the fourth successive time Dhoni had failed to put a decent score to his name and some voiced for Dinesh Karthik’s recall.
But three days later, at the ACA VDCA ground in Visakhapatnam, Dhoni became an overnight sensation as he blasted 148 after Sourav Ganguly promoted him to No 3. “He still thanks me every time I meet him. He loves this strip,” says curator K Nagamallayya. Not without reason Visakhapatnam is often referred to as the City of Destiny.
On Sunday for the second match against the West Indies, Dhoni returns to this venue to lead India for the 150th time in ODIs. “This is a true pitch and very good for hitting on the up and that’s why Dhoni likes it so much. He can bat freely here,” adds Nagamallayya. “Even last time he told me this is his favourite ground in India because of the true bounce.”
The pleasing venue, amid hills, has earned praise from visitors since its international debut in 2005, the same game Dhoni launched the helicopter shot. Nagamallayya says: “I always tell him that both (the ground and Dhoni) launched together.” Indeed.
Cool in the air
Both teams stayed indoors all of Saturday but will be happy to learn that Cyclone Helen has stayed away from this part. Dhoni, in particular, is looking ahead for the match to happen.
“There was a lot of air turbulence during the chartered flight from Kochi to here. And even as most of the players panicked, Dhoni joked that the India team was on ‘an adventurous journey’. The pilot had actually contemplated returning to Kochi if the turbulence increased. But Dhoni was the only one who was very calm throughout. He never gets tensed,” revealed a team member.
It wasn’t easy for Nagamallayya & Co to dry the outfield on Saturday morning. “We got here at 5am after thunderstorms on Friday night to get the ground ready.”
This is happy hunting ground for India with wins in each of the four completed ODIs. And Virat Kohli can get a hat-trick of tons here after his 118 against Australia in 2010 and 117 against West Indies in 2011.
The West Indies, now without Chris Gayle, were undone by several balls that kept low in Kochi, but will enjoy the Vizag surface.