Ranchi sans Dhoni isn't as fun as it can be

Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the JSCA Stadium in Ranchi. PTI

On Saturday, Ranchi will welcome Test cricket after a gap of two years. But it’s evident that the cricket fever hasn’t gripped the city. Kal match hai kya sir? (Is there a match tomorrow?), quizzes a cabbie with little interest in his tone. But when you mention a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s name, he offers a wide grin.    

The Talismanic cricketer last played in his hometown in 2018. The ODI against the Australians on March 8 was sold as Dhoni’s farewell game in Ranchi. But the people here believe they will see more of the son of their soil in India colours.    

On the eve of the third and final Test for the Freedom Trophy, only a handful of fans gathered around the JSCA International Stadium Complex ahead of the Indian team’s training session. Even as the Indian team bus made its way inside the stadium, a group of school children were hardly excited, as they saw a glimpse of the star cricketers.  

Among the fans, one with the Dhoni-like long hair and with the former India captain’s name on his T-shirt wasn’t hard to miss. Many walls on the streets remind you of the iconic cricketer’s feats “There is no Ranchi without Dhoni,” says former Bihar captain Adil Hussain.

“You ask about Dhoni to people here, they will say they have seen him somewhere, be it on the main road or on some ground or outside a golgappa shop. Also, when people from here travel to different cities and tell others that they are from Ranchi, the usual response they get is ‘oh you are from Dhoni’s land.’

Adil, who was Dhoni’s skipper in the Central Coal Limited (CCL) team, is still in awe of the 38-year-old’s respect for the game. “He is an example of how a player who is dedicated can taste great success,” he says.

For Shwetabh Upadhyay, a regular net bowler at the JSCA, Dhoni is a great teacher. “He speaks to us (net bowlers) when he comes to train. He always tells us not to panic. He says ‘when you worry about a game situation you won’t succeed’,” he says.

Adil appreciates ‘Dhoni the person’ more. “He came to meet my ailing mother last year. My colleagues and family members were there hoping to talk to him. After he left, all of them raved about his simplicity. He was so humble while speaking to everyone. He sets an example of how a celebrity should be,” he recollects.

Dhoni’s retirement talks have gained momentum over the last few months. “Until he makes an official announcement about it, we won’t even think about it. He is still fit enough to play,” says Adil.

The topic wasn’t to be avoided in the pre-match press-conference. “He has played for so many years so Dhoni knows when to take a call,” Wriddhiman Saha said when quizzed about his senior.

The poor ticket sales for the third Test has come under the scanner and perhaps, it’s an indication that Ranchi is missing its favourite star.  

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