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NON-FICTION: THE MYSTERY OF DHONI

November 18, 2018

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The coolest captain in Indian cricket, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, may be on the verge of hanging up his gloves, but ever since his debut in international cricket in 2004, he has developed more followers than foes. Wherever he goes, people follow him and shower their love on him, but when they try to find out more about him, they come to a dead end, as Dhoni doesn’t want to be found. But, thanks to cricket journalist Bharat Sundaresan’s The Dhoni Touch: Unravelling the Enigma that is Mahendra Singh Dhoni, readers can now learn just that little bit more about the sportsman and understand how he became a legend in the land of cricketing greats.

First impressions may lead readers to believe this is a paper version of the 2016 Bollywood film M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, starring Sushant Singh Rajput in the title role. But this book is anything but that. Fans may already know from the biopic that ‘Mahi’ does not smoke or drink alcohol, and that his father was a water pump operator at the very ground where Dhoni practised his game. It is also common knowledge that his father, Pan Singh, didn’t approve of his inclination towards sports but that when the son batted, the father was always there to watch, oftentimes from behind a pillar or a wall. Such details are only the tip of the iceberg of information in the pages within.

The origin story is there, about how a young man from Ranchi, Jharkhand, was able to make giant strides in international cricket and there is plenty about his fabled temperament — how he manages to remain calm in even the most difficult of situations. However, there is nothing about how he met his wife, or any previous relationships he might have had, because the book is not about the person; it is through and through about the sportsman. Quite unlike Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography, which was dominated by his ‘life with wife’ rather than his life as a cricketer, this book focuses on Dhoni and the people behind his professional success.

An authorised biography that shies away from controversial issues

There are also stories about Dhoni the hopeful soldier — the cricketer always wanted to be in the army and was conferred with an honorary territorial rank in the Indian military’s elite parachute regiment. The honour was bestowed in November 2011, a few months after India won the International Cricket Council World Cup under his captaincy. This was India’s second win, the first being in 1983. It is quite endearing to read how the man — who wears a sports uniform coveted by thousands, if not millions of Indian youngsters — cherishes the lieutenant colonel’s uniform assigned to him. So much so that he even wore it when accepting the Padma Bhushan award — India’s third highest civilian honour — earlier this year.

The book is packed with plenty of information, but oddly enough, there are no pictures. It is 200 pages or so of plain text. Photographs of Dhoni from his childhood, or of him at home would have been very interesting to see but, despite this omission, the reader still comes away feeling he or she knows Dhoni and what makes him human. Another drawback is that the book often comes across as a fan’s account when the journalist Sundaresan visits Dhoni’s school, meets his friends, neighbours and well-wishers from his home town. Some parts of the narrative, where the author speaks of his own interactions with Dhoni can also easily put the reader off, particularly if the reader isn’t from India or is not familiar with the author’s other work. However, the interviews with Dhoni’s closest friend Seemant Lohani aka Chittu, his school coach Keshav Bannerjee, former clubmate Paramjit Singh aka Chottu Bhaiya and his friend Col Vembu Shankar, help the author unravel the mysterious Mahi and make for engaging reading.

Those hoping for any scandalous unveilings will be disappointed, as there is nothing that even remotely smacks of controversy: the book was authorised by the subject and so there is absolutely nothing about the two-year suspension of the Chennai Super Kings — of which Dhoni was captain at the time — from the Indian Premier League, nor anything about his relationship with his estranged elder brother Narendra. As with any other sportsman, Dhoni has also experienced career highs and lows, but the book ignores the lows, such as his retirement from Test cricket midway through an important tour, or his inability to repeat his earlier heroics with the bat in recent years.

The reviewer writes on film, television and popular culture

The Dhoni Touch: Unravelling the Enigma that is
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
By Bharat Sundaresan
Penguin, India
ISBN: 978-0143440062
256pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 18th, 2018

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