There is a reason why MS Dhoni is arguably the most loved Indian cricketer, ever, one that could make even some of the greats of this nation, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly or Sunil Gavaskar envy, albeit with a smile. The reason is not just limited to his abilities on the field or the records he achieved throughout his illustrious career. Dhoni is respected off the field as well as he inspired the youth of the nation to join the Indian Army and serve the country, an option that the veteran cricketer might himself pursue, this time for a longer stint, now that he has announced his international retirement.
Just like his love and dedication for the game, Dhoni has an enduring relationship with the Indian army, one that goes back to 2011, the year he sent that iconic six into the crowd sending entire Wankhede into a frenzy as India ended their 28-year-long wait for a second World Cup trophy. Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia, who is also a former DGMO and Colonel Para Regiment, had inducted Dhoni in the Indian Army as a positive brand ambassador, soon after the historic World Cup win on home soil. Four years later, he was awarded the honorary rank in the Indian Territorial Army and the following year became an official paratrooper having completed its respective training in the Indian Army’s Agra training camp.
And Dhoni being Dhoni, he never forgets to show the admiration and respect he has for the Indian Army. Ardent fans of the 38-year-old might even have old pictures of Dhoni donning camouflage gloves during international games or carrying similar designed cricket-kit bag during practice sessions. His latest act of tribute, one still fresh in our memories includes Dhoni handing camouflage caps to his teammates ahead of an ODI game in Ranchi last year which was as a mark of respect for the CRPF personnel who lost their lives in the Pulwama terrorist attack. The team had later donated their match fees to the National Defence Fund. Another example, a rather infamous one, was the gloves he wore during India’s World Cup opening game last summer in England which had the symbol of the army’s dagger insignia. Dhoni had to later remove it for the second game as it being against ICC’s rules and regulations.
But Dhoni’s latest act of tribute was arguably his retirement post – “Thanks a lot for ur love and support throughout.from 1929 hrs consider me as Retired.” Did you manage to spot it? “1929 hrs” is technically a military timing format.
But Dhoni’s reverence for the Indian Army comes from his childhood aspiration of becoming a soldier. In fact, back in 2013, Dhoni had admitted during an interview with a news channel saying, “Since childhood, I wanted to join the Army. Seeing the soldiers, I thought that one day I’ll be the same. The uniform is something special. Maybe this is all in uniform, that I was not afraid.”
Probably this could be the very reason why Dhoni sneaks off to the soldiers camp whenever he gets time off his cricketing duties. Last year, after the heartbreaking World Cup exit, Dhoni had taken a sabbatical from international cricket during which he served the Indian Army’s Parachute Regiment from July 31 to August 15 in the forward locations in Kashmir Valley. During his brief stint, Dhoni performed the duties of patrolling, guard, and stayed with the troops in the camps. He was also trained as a paratrooper and practiced shooting.
With Dhoni now having retired from international cricket, and IPL 2020 being the only cricketing responsibility at hand, the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman might aim for another stint with the Indian Army, but probably for a longer one. Even his business partner Arun Pandey had talked on similar lines last week after the big announcement. He said, “One thing is for sure, he will be spending more time with the Army.”
With inputs from Manish Prasad (Sr. Editor, Defence)