I Am Number 7

Cricket had been a great obsession right since my childhood like every other Indian kid. Yes, difficult to believe now since I am always seen with books and stuff and never on a field or talking about it as much as my friends do. But there was a time I literally breathed Cricket. It served as a silent backdrop for many a memories with my father. I remember how every Sunday evening, I would drag Papa for a session of Cricket on our terrace or in the little piece of land that we had in front of our home. Like most kids my age, I too loved batting and Papa would oblige me with bowling as much time as I wanted.

There was a poster of a fair and handsome man in the baggy green cap in our home and on asking Papa I came to know he was the Australian skipper Steve Waugh. Papa was a big fan. I too grew up with an admiration for cricketers like him and Rahul Dravid and therefore unlike other kids my age, I never had a fancy for those big strokes. It was always about how you defend like the Wall did. Soon, I had writings on the walls declaring that I wanted to be a great cricketer. These are tales of an age when no dream seemed impossible. You just had to choose one and work for it. Awesome were those Sundays, when we would have guests come over and we would carry our portable B&W television set to the terrace to watch an Indian chase against the Pakistani speedsters over a plate of hot and delicious smelling mutton curry. It wasn’t just about playing and watching the game. I also had fun collecting trivia and knowing about the sports history. I used to cut clippings from the sports page of the newspaper. The Telegraph was the preferred one as that was the only daily which had the sports section in color. I had once chanced upon a book penned by Sunil Gavaskar, called Idols. It featured stories about all the great cricketers of his era and I still remember the delight I had in reading it. I still have the copy. As I grew up, the playing part ceased not as a result of losing interest in the game but more for an aversion towards any kind of physical activity which sadly continues till date.

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Watching Sachin and Sehwag opening for India in the blue jerseys was a delight. The tougher the opponent, the better it was. Watching the duels between the curly-haired Sachin and the blonde haired Warne, two talismanic players was magic. The Australian team then had as many stars as in their flag like PontingGilchristHaydenWarneMcgrath, Brett Lee and therefore was the team to beat. In Sourav Ganguly, we had a captain to look forward to, in SachinSehwag and Dravid, we had batsmen to look forward to, in ZaheerKumble and Harbhajan we had bowlers to look forward to. But what every Indian missed was a world-class Indian wicket-keeper, somebody like Gilchrist. We had enough of the spirited but lackluster Ajay Ratra, the baby-faced Parthiv Patel who after a promising start to his career was faltering and the decent Dinesh Karthik. What we needed then was a maverick wicket-keeper who could bat as well, and a superstar on his own.

I still remember the day. I was watching India’s match against Bangladesh. And I couldn’t help but notice a face that was an odd one in the field. Long golden locks of hair under the blue Indian cap, a pair of Orange keeping gloves just the way Gilchrist did, a pair of light blue keeping pads instead of the dark blue worn by keepers prior to him. Everything was unique about him and something about him made me like him at that instant. Later, when India batted, I read his name for the first time, “MS Dhoni”. The name was unique too. I never knew at that point of time that this man would be the poster boy of Indian cricket, creating a league of his own. But I wished for him to play for long just for a change, of not having to watch the boring keepers before him. Soon, the news was out, he was a prolific hitter of the cricket ball. The innings at Vizag against Pakistan where he was promoted to No. 3 in the batting order, made everybody sit up and take notice. A new star was born! Those days with Greg Chappell at the helm and in every game a new trick being tried out whenever he was promoted at No. 3 he never disappointed. Soon followed the Jaipur innings, where he bludgeoned to a record-breaking unbeaten of 183 off just 145 deliveries. Here was a boy from a place which was unknown in the map of cricket till then with a crude batting style rewriting records. Later on, his street smart dexterity behind the stumps saw him make some stunning dismissals.

Come the year 2007, a disastrous campaign for the Indian cricket team in the World Cup in the Caribbean islands. Chappell’s ideas like promoting Sachin down the order to No. 4 didn’t work. It was very sad to see a dejected Rahul Dravid at the helm and sadder to see Indian fans’ reaction to this loss. I was appearing for my tenth boards then and followed the score from the Cricket alerts in Papa’s cellphone.

Six months later..

Cricket was all set to change with the T20 World Cup. Not much was expected of the young Indian team led by Dhoni but what happened next is history! No Indian would ever forget the bowl out against Pakistan in the league phase; the six sixes in an over by Yuvraj against England; the sight of Sreesanth celebrating aggressively after dismissing Hayden in the semifinals; Dhoni giving the ball to a lesser known Joginder Sharma in the final over in the finals who after bowling a couple of wide balls up front made it look like all was over. But destiny had other plans. As Misbah played a risky scoop shot and the ball went in the air, every Indian’s heart skipped a beat and as soon as Sreesanth had taken the catch, every Indian player rushed to the field and every Indian in their drawing rooms erupted in joy. But more than all these, what remained etched in my memory is the sight of a young Dhoni in a sleeveless shirt holding the trophy. A lot had been said about Dhoni the hitter, the marauder earlier. But this was a new side of Dhoni that the world was seeing. We didn’t just find a wicket-keeper batsman but a leader in him as well. His cool and calm persona later earned him the title, Ice Man. I had a thing with finals. Like the 2003 World Cup final, where I had to watch in our neighbor’s house as our TV had broken down before the WC, this time around we didn’t have access to the channel which broadcast the match and so had to make a trip to yet another neighbor’s house.

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Four years later..

Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai:

Chasing a target of 275, India had lost 3 wickets for 100 odd runs. Everybody was expecting an in form Yuvraj to come next, but surprising many, the man with the jersey no. 7 walked out with the bat tucked under his arms. Dhoni had not been in that good a form but again like in 2007, destiny had other plans. He was bestowed with the tag of the greatest finisher and he proved it right by finishing it off in style with a massive six just the way he had done so many times in the past.

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This time around, I was at the college attending some workshop and when I returned to the hostel, I found the TV had been moved out of the recreation room since it was too small to accommodate all and when Dhoni hit the winning shot, everybody in the hostel erupted in joy. MS was rightly adjudged Man of the Match for the match winning effort with an equally important knock by Gambhir. There were heroes galore. Yuvraj Singh who was battling cancer went down in his knees tears in his eyes to be later adjudged Player of the Tournament. The old monk in Sachin finally had his salvation as he could lay his hands on a trophy that had eluded him now 5 times. Sachin draped in the tricolor was carried on the shoulders of Virat Kohli; the man who was going to carry forward his legacy, for a victory lap in front of his home crowd. The crowd went in a frenzy as the stadium looked like a star lit arena with everybody having switched on the camera in their phones.

The man has so many fans. Some love his helicopter shots, some his composure on the field. What I have always loved the most about him has been his straight forward replies to awkward questions with a smile. He makes you believe dreams do come true. His journey has been no less than a fairy tale. It rarely happens that a biographical movie is based on a sportsperson who is still active. But such has been his journey. With just a few days to go for its release, it is set to inspire millions across the nation.

 

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