The quaint Sophia Gardens is a world away from the 24/7 hustle and bustle of Indian news channels. Not that it makes any difference to MS Dhoni. The India skipper has in the past told this correspondent of his habit of not reading newspapers or logging online to keep tabs on developments back home, at the best of times. On a day like today, he wouldn't even bother!
And so it seemed as Dhoni was his usual jovial, relaxed self even as the wolfpack known as the Indian media was baying for his blood back home. A day after Board president N Srinivasan's customised ‘exit’, the attention turned to Dhoni and his own conflict of interest — it emerged that he held a 15% stake in Rhiti Sports, the management firm that has Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Pragyan Ojha among its list of clients.
While the firm — managed by Dhoni's childhood friend Arun Pandey — was able to sidestep the controversy on a technicality there's little doubt over where the loyalties of at least a couple of those players lie.
Since their arrival on British shores for the ICC Champions Trophy, Dhoni's been constantly flanked by his India and Chennai Super Kings teammates Raina and Jadeja. Whether at the team hotel or at the practice sessions, the duo is always by the captain's side.
When Dhoni goes to bat in the nets, batting in the adjacent net is either Raina or Jadeja. If Jadeja isn't batting he joins the nets bowlers in rolling his arm over for the skipper. When Dhoni takes guard at the net he seeks out Jadeja. And no, he doesn't call him Sir Jadeja, he shouts out “Jaddu”, who then helps him take his customary leg-stump guard with seemingly GPS precision, directing Dhoni inch-by-inch till it's perfect.
On Monday, Dhoni seemed completely oblivious to the developments back home as he was handed over the ICC Shield, for leading India to the top-spot in the ODI rankings at the time of the cut-off date, by former ICC president David Morgan.
In the pavilion a few players, including Jadeja and Raina, and some of the backroom staff provided a non-stop round of applause that rang loudly across the empty stadium even as many other members of the touring party went about their training drills.
A team man
Once in the spotlight, Dhoni the entertainer took over. Asked by photographers and cameramen to lift the trophy and give them a Kodak moment, he said poker-faced, “This one belongs to the team, not me alone.”
The scribes, of course, egged him on to give them a picture that would be worth a thousand words. One scribe asked him to bite the shield, the trademark style of tennis star Rafael Nadal, but Dhoni didn't oblige.
The ICC shield is shaped like the Venus Rosewater Dish, which is presented to the ladies singles champion at Wimbledon. But, Dhoni wasn't going to go the tennis way. Persistently asked to pull a Nadal, he said, “If you want tennis celebrations go to Wimbledon. We do things our way!”
It’s unlikely that the blue-eyed boy of Indian cricket listens to Ol' Blue Eyes, but like Frank Sinatara he can chorus, “I did it my way”.