Perhaps it is the only time in MS Dhoni's career that his timing didn't work out for the best, although naturally it was still the opposition who suffered. It's when Dhoni unintentionally made sure that a Pakistani player's potential date with an Indian fan wasn't to be. He couldn't be blamed for it though. And no, it's not what you think.
The story dates back to August 2004 when India A were on that now famous tour of Kenya where the first chapter of the Dhoni legend was written. The setting was the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi. Like he did in literally every game of the tri-series, Dhoni was toying with the Pakistan A bowlers, hitting boundaries for fun. Not that one member of the opposition, who had been positioned by the long-off fence, was complaining.
Not only had he caught the eye of the Indian woman in the stands, but he had managed to exchange a few sweet nothings with her in between overs - to the extent that she had agreed to meet for dinner that evening. It was then that the Pakistani fielder in question, who had been brought up to mid-off, saw Dhoni launch the ball with great force over his head and into the stands. What he recalls next is the sight of paramedics rushing towards that area of the ground before attending to his "date", who had been struck a painful blow on her leg, followed by him ordering room service and dining in solitude that night.
An unfortunate incident for sure, but as far as Dhoni was concerned he couldn't have timed it better - both the six and the knock. It was to be his first-ever century against an international team. Three days later, he'd produce an encore though no "dates" are known to have been disrupted. The man who the Pakistan A coaching staff had described as a "qawal (folk singer) who looked like he'd come to play the drum" had shown them, the Indian selectors and the world that he was made for the big league.
By sheer coincidence, it also happened to be one of those rare occasions in that era when an India A series was telecast live back home. Not to forget that the only reason Dhoni made it into the playing XI was due to first-choice wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik being called for national duty. His selection on the tour itself over fellow East Zone gloveman Deep Dasgupta was a punt taken by Kiran More & Co. It was just meant to be. Like with a majority of the Dhoni story, it just happened to be perfect timing.
Dhoni is considered by many to be Indian cricket's ultimate "destiny's child". It's for good reason. And he for one has never shied away from it. If anything, he's embraced it at every juncture of his career. So much so that he's always refused to extend his hand to a palmist or an astrologer. "Achha naseeb hai, chalne do (my destiny's good, let it stay that way)'," is how he would respond when asked for his reasons to be so dismissive of them.
It's this faith in his own destiny that has in many ways shaped the life and career of MS Dhoni the cricketer and the man. It also played a huge role, if not defined, his enigmatic aura. For while he might have left those around him scratching their heads over some of the decisions taken both on and off the field, the former Indian captain has always done so with the belief that whatever will be, will be. In essence, no other cricketer has epitomised the Que sera seraapproach to life to the extent Dhoni has, both as a player and a leader.
This belief also empowered him to take more challenging decisions than many in his position, especially when he was in charge of the Indian team. Or like Dhoni puts it routinely in his discourses to young jawans(soldiers) who he meets on his visits to army camps, "the more and more decisions you take, the more and more times you'll make a correct decision. So, the more decisions you take, the number of mistakes will come down."
It's a theory that he lived by during his time at the helm, of course laced with a lot of earthy logic and common sense, whether it was handing the last over of a World Cup final to a very inexperienced bowler, or nudging the senior players out when he felt his white-ball team needed more speed than miles under their legs, or even dramatically announcing his Test retirement in the middle of a series. But again, even if he didn't always come across as the right man at the right place, he was there more importantly at the right time. Think back to the English and Australian summers of 2011, when India had been cleaned up 4-0 on both tours. It just so happened to take place during a period when the one man who was determined to support him to eternity and back, N Srinivasan, had taken over as the BCCI head honcho.
The fact that Dhoni even landed up in Chennai and won Srinivasan's loyalty was a result of him believing in his destiny. He'd after all turned down approaches from three separate franchises to become their marquee player and instead decided to throw his name into the first-ever IPL auction. The supposed gamble landed him the costliest price-tag for that edition of the tournament, back when the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were still at their peak. Not to forget his subsequent rise as a cricketing superstar in a cricket-mad city that had never had one they could call their own. And again, would he have wielded the kind of singular, unopposed power that he did during that inaugural World T20 if the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly hadn't decided that the shortest format of the game wasn't for them back then?
You could maybe even trace this sense of predestination to his unique fashion of designing run-chases. We might not all agree with it, but you couldn't deny that there was some method to his at times seemingly bizarre tactics while in the middle. It was based around never trying to force the issue, unless it was very necessary, and letting the match situation play out till it reached the cricketing equivalent of a penalty shootout or a Mexican standoff, or simply Dhoni hour. It was a risky strategy built around a belief that when that time came, it would more often than not be he who prevailed. An average of 102.71 in 75 successful run-chases is testament to that.
In a way it is apt that his last game in India colours was one where he stuck to his diktat till the very end but eventually failed to see it through. Many believed it was the perfect time for Dhoni to call it a day. That he'd done all he could with his ageing body to get India to within 18 runs of a spot in another World Cup final. That it was time to go. Many have since questioned his delay in hanging up his Indian jersey, and understandably so. But at the time of that semifinal in Manchester, a T20 World Cup was scheduled for a little more than a year later.
Maybe Dhoni believed there was one final lifeline still left on his palm to see his country through to another global title. Even if the coals that had kept his remarkable career lit for over 16 years had long burned out. Perhaps the tournament being pushed back by 12 months was the sign that the man who mastered his own destiny was waiting for. Either way, we'll never really know. After all, Dhoni will never show us his hand, literally.
The news is transferred from Topcrickets.