MS Dhoni, India’s limited-overs captain, has spoken of how the disappointment of the first-round exit in the 2007 World Cup, and the angry reception the players received upon their return home, played an important role in shaping his personality in the public domain and as a cricketer.
“When we landed in Delhi, there was a lot of media. At times, people feel that we are not emotional enough about it, but I always felt, as sports persons, you have to be strong enough to go through everything and it has to be within yourself,” Dhoni said. “It is not about coming for a press conference and crying about stuff, or crying in the field about what has happened.”
India had crashed out of the tournament in the Caribbean after losing their group matches against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and having beaten only Bermuda. Dhoni’s house, which was under construction in Ranchi at the time, was pelted with stones in the aftermath of the exit.
“At that point of time, when we landed, we had to get out in a police van. I was sitting next to Viru [Virender Sehwag] paaji. It was evening or night time,” Dhoni said. “We were travelling at a decent speed – 60 or 70 kms – and that’s quite a bit for India, that too on the narrow roads. And, you know, media cars around us with their cameras and the big lights on top, it felt as if we had committed a big crime, maybe like a murderer or terrorist or something. We were actually chased by them.
“After a while, we entered a police station. We went there, we sat for a while and then we left in our cars after 15-20 minutes. That actually had a big impact on me and I channelised the aggression to become a better cricketer and a better human being.”
Dhoni was speaking in New York, ahead of the release of his biopic – MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. The press conference at Fox Building in Manhattan was unlike the usual ones Dhoni is used to giving. The number seven jersey and the India cap were replaced by a greyish black suit and a silver tie. The movie, which set to release worldwide on September 30, is about Dhoni’s journey from when he started playing cricket to the 2011 World Cup.
A group of Dhoni fans, dressed in their best attire, were huddled outside Fox Building, with big smiles on their faces. They had won a contest and made their way from Chicago and other parts of New York to collect their prize: a meet and greet with Dhoni.
The change in atmosphere was evident as Dhoni walked in with his wife Sakshi, and Arun Pandey, the producer of the film. “It is a very simple story and that is the beauty of it,” Dhoni said about the movie. “One thing I told Neeraj [the director] was, this story should not be to glorify me. It is about the journey of a professional sports person and that’s what it should be about.”
Talking about how he told his life’s story to Sushant Singh Rajput, the actor playing him, Dhoni said it was challenging to go back in time and reconstruct the story because he hardly spent time dwelling on the past. “More than the physical attributes and the characteristics, Rajput wanted to know what I was thinking at different points of time in life and to explain that was hard and nostalgic,” Dhoni said. “I was a bit worried initially when the whole concept of the movie came in, but once we were in, I was not really worried, the reason being I was just narrating my story. I was just telling Neeraj that this is what happened.”
Pandey, the producer of the movie, recounted an anecdote that told him Dhoni’s story was important. It was when he saw Dhoni talk to a child at an airport in India – “the question was less than 15 seconds, but Dhoni gave the kid an eight-minute answer,” he said. Pandey met the child’s parents two years later and learnt how Dhoni’s one interaction had inspired him.
Dhoni spoke of how important it was for him to have a steady Railways job after he finished high school to give him the stability to pursue a risky career in cricket. He also talked about how it was important for parents in India to encourage their kids to take up sports seriously. Pushing for sports in the long run – that’s what will bring India medals, he said.
“How to keep things simple in life? Often, you hear legends talking about ‘watch the ball, hit the ball,’ and that’s how simple it is,” Dhoni concluded, when asked what had worked for him, as a cricketer and as a person.