Sachin Tendulkar knew even before MS Dhoni‘s international debut that he was “something special to see.” Dhoni made his international debut in Bangladesh in 2004, under Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy, and in just his fifth ODI, he smashed 148 against Pakistan after being promoted to No. 3.
“I hadn’t heard about him (Dhoni) until he got into the Indian team,” Tendulkar told the Indian Express on Saturday, soon after Dhoni’s international retirement. “I saw him for the first time in Bangladesh during a one-day tournament. I was having a discussion with Sourav and told him that this guy has something special in him and has the ability to hit the ball.
“However, hitting the ball at first-class cricket level and hitting it at the international level are two different things. He had hit two boundaries in that [practice] match, and I told Sourav, ‘Dada, he has that jhatka (whip) in his hand which he uses while hitting the ball.’ It was something special to see. It was his first outing with the Indian team. But the way he was hitting the ball, one could make out he was someone special.”
Giving a peek into Dhoni’s personality, Tendulkar said he found him quiet in his early days as an international cricketer. “He has been quiet with me all throughout,” Tendulkar said. “I had heard many stories that he will not come and say ‘hello’. Many found him rude, but we broke that barrier. His behaviour was understandable. It happens when a player is new in the team, and takes some time to open up.”
Dhoni, who went on to captain Tendulkar for six years, revealed during a book launch in 2013 how even after many years of playing together, he found it difficult to chat with Tendulkar outside the ground.
“Even now, am a bit shy to talking to Sachin outside the field; inside the field it’s still good. On the Bangladesh tour [in 2004] we didn’t interact much, but in the Pakistan series, in the Kochi ODI, Sachin got five wickets. Whenever he was supposed to bowl, he’d ask me ‘shall I bowl legspin or offspin? Shall I bowl seam-ups or mix them up?’
“That interaction made me comfortable. From there on, it was important for me to be ready with an answer whenever he asked me something. I had to at times tell him, ‘no, legspin will work better’. By the time I was made captain in 2007, I was easily comfortable with him when it came to talking to him on the field. Off the field, I still find it difficult.”
Tendulkar picked out Dhoni’s calmness as one standout quality, while also being unable to pick out one particular Dhoni knock as his most favourite. Tendulkar resonated views of many of their former team-mates when he said “MS gave hope and showed nothing is impossible.
“The one quality I liked about him was his calmness. It’s something that helped him be so successful,” Tendulkar said. “It has been a fantastic journey, he had come from a small place (Ranchi) and played 15 years for India. I wish him all the best after a fantastic career. I enjoyed all his innings, and to single out one innings will be hard for me.
“Whatever is going on in his mind and what he thinks about his body, only he knows. He knows it better than anybody else. I would much rather look at his contribution to Indian cricket, it has been immense. He has given joy to so many people around the globe and inspired so many youngsters to play this sport. I would like to congratulate him on a fantastic career. I enjoyed playing with him.”
‘He hit balls into parts of the field that others couldn’t’ – Greg Chappell
Greg Chappell, India’s head coach from 2005 to 2007, said Dhoni’s brute force and unorthodox approach stood out when he saw the wicketkeeper-batsman for the first time.
“When I first met Dhoni in 2005, I was taken by his strength and the fact that he hit balls into parts of the field that others couldn’t,” Chappell told Mumbai Mirror. “Short balls that most pulled through midwicket, MS hit straight back past startled bowlers. His back-foot, short-armed punches down the ground were also a signature shot but what impressed me most of all was his ability to clear boundaries at will.”
Chappell felt Dhoni’s street smarts, his ability to understand situations and tailor his game from a brute hitter to a tactical finisher quickly made him India’s go-to player in ODIs.
“I saw more potential than a brute in the dying overs,” Chappell said. “I could see that his decision-making and his reading of a game could make him one of the most dangerous finishers in the game. As Rahul Dravid and I began to reshape the way India played one-day cricket, we could see that Dhoni was going to be a key component in becoming one of the most dangerous teams either setting or chasing a target.”