Even before he became an international star, grounds in Ranchi used to fill up or empty out, depending on whether Mahendra Singh Dhoni was batting.
The excitement in the city, which will host its maiden international game on Saturday, can be imagined now that their favourite cricketer returns as captain of the Indian team.
“Before Mahi had got his India break, we had a Ranji match at the Mecon ground here against Karnataka, studded with international players. In both innings when Mahi’s turn came to bat the whole ground was packed and emptied quickly after he got out. Soon, the Karnakata cricketers were enquiring who’s this cricketer?” recalled Narendra Singh Dhoni, elder brother of the Indian captain.
It’s the kind of sway the wicketkeeper-batsman holds over his city, which will host the third ODI between India and England on January 19th at the newly constructed HEC International Stadium.
“It is the moment we have waited ever since he became the Indian captain. It’s been our dream that he captains India in his own city, and it has come true,” said Narendra.
The team’s win in the last one-dayer at Kochi and Dhoni’s heroic batting effort (66-ball 72) to turn things around in the game, has added to the cricket fever.
Narendra revealed that the Indian and England teams touched down at the local airport on Wednesday to a rousing welcome from the fans.
“Everytime Mahi is here, we have huge crowds outside our house.
This time he has invited the whole team for dinner, I can’t imagine how it will be,” said Narendra, adding that his brother headed straight home from the airport.
Feeling most proud about it are students and staff of the Jawahar Vidya Mandir School, Dhoni’s alma mater. “Our schoolboy is captaining India for the first time in his hometown, can there be a bigger moment than this,” said the school’s sports teacher Keshav Ranjan Banerjee, the man who came up with the legendary move of converting Dhoni from a football goalkeeper to wicketkeeper. “You can be assured of a sizeable presence of our school at the stadium. We have received some complimentary tickets and our principal, TR Singh, is definitely going for the game. Many of our students have bought the tickets on their own,” said Banerjee.
“He’s born and brought up here, it’s the place he first held his bat, this occasion is unique.”
As for the wish of the locals, Narendra said: “Everyone here is expressing only one wish - that he should bat higher up the order. He’s in great form and should play in the top four and get a hundred in an India win.”