Visakhapatnam is not called the `City of Destiny’ for nothing. This is the venue where MS Dhoni announced his arrival as a big hitter with a blistering 148 off 123 balls in an one-dayer against Pakistan in April 2005. That day, captain Sourav Ganguly promoted Dhoni up the batting order to the number 3 slot. It was both an opportunity to prove himself and a challenge that Dhoni took up. Inzamam-ul-Haq and his boys bore the brunt for 155 minutes.
I remember interviewing Dhoni the morning after the match at Hotel Taj Residency located by the Ramakrishna Beach. With a lot of curiosity about the boy from Ranchi, I intended to keep the interview more about Dhoni the person than Dhoni the cricketer. The world had seen his cricketing prowess the previous evening. I was more keen on understanding the young mind behind those audacious shots.
Over 15 minutes, Dhoni gave the world a glimpse of what an uncluttered cricketing brain he was. If the ball was in his zone and deserved to be hit, he will hit it. Not all his shots were entirely textbook but he made the unconventional look like a moment of joy. Add to that the energy, the power, the dynamism of youth. Not to discount the rockstar looks he sported with those long locks showing beneath his helmet.
Did the shots figure in his dream last night, I remember asking him.
Dhoni smiled and gave a cheeky, “it was a dream come true on the ground yesterday” reply.
If Dhoni had not hit that century – incidentally the first ODI century by a regular Indian wicketkeeper – his place in the Indian team could have been under threat given that he had not done much of note in the previous matches.
Fourteen years later, Vizag presented a challenge to a more mature Dhoni. His Chennai Super Kings had to put aside the threat by a much younger Delhi Capitals team to book a ticket to Hyderabad for the IPL finals against Mumbai Indians.
There was a sub-plot to the encounter as well. Would Rishabh Pant, Dhoni’s successor with the gloves in Test matches, who had shown flashes of doing a MSD@2005 in the Eliminator match against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Wednesday, match up to the master? Pant did not disappoint but with little support at the other end, could never get going in the match against CSK. Yet again, Dhoni proved – this time as captain – that he owned Vizag.
If he could croon, he could sing to Vizag “Tere mere beech mein kaisa hai yeh bandhan anjaana”.
Trivia : Kamal Haasan’s `Ek Duuje ke liye’ was shot in Visakhapatnam.
P.S. Incidentally, Dhoni and Ganguly were together at the ground in Vizag once again. But this time in opposite teams, with Ganguly the team advisor to Delhi Capitals.