Inside the captain’s lair

The rise and rise of Dhoni through the ranks of Indian cricket is a story in its own right, for Ranchi has never had much of a cricketing tradition.

Ranchi: There is a palpable buzz around Ranchi that any recent visitor to the city can gauge — a sense of calm before the storm, of people holding their breaths in anticipation of a life-changing experience around the corner.

It has been 12 years since this industrial city joined the league of capitals when Jharkhand was granted statehood. But it has managed to retain the small-town feel that the influx of new money tends to eradicate.

At least in cricketing terms, all that is likely to change when India and England take the field on Saturday for the third One-Day International.

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Cricket in united Bihar and, since 2000, in Jharkhand, has been centred around the Keenan Stadium in Jamshedpur. Even the state cricket association (JSCA) is headquartered there, but a dispute with the Tatas, the owners of the ground, forced the JSCA to swing into action and build its own 35,000-capacity venue at Dhurwa, south of the city centre.

The conditions were ripe for Ranchi to be elevated to the status of an international cricket city, given that one of its most famous sons, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was captaining the national side.

The rise and rise of Dhoni through the ranks of Indian cricket is a story in its own right, for Ranchi has never had much of a cricketing tradition.

There was hardly any infrastructure to suit the obvious talents of the boy, and he had to live a nomadic life to fulfill his dream.

IT IS hockey that has been the king of sports in Jharkhand, with the state having produced big stars like 1928 Olympics gold medalwinning captain Jaipal Singh Munda, Sylvanus Dung Dung and, more recently, the Lakra siblings — Bimal, Birendra and Asunta.

And yet, it is interesting to note that the Hockey India League, which has Ranchi Rhinos as one of its five franchises, is failing to generate much interest, despite hoardings all across the city.

Instead, it is Dhoni, a man largely conspicuous by his absence on the outdoor media, who has not only captured public imagination but taken it to such level that the fall of the Arjun Munda-led state government has been barely noticed on the street.

"When I came [into the national side], it was difficult to make people understand which place or city I was from, but once we have international venue, people outside will recognise the city quite easily. It’s good the state and very good for our city,” Dhoni had said after victory in Kochi on Tuesday.

The two teams arrived in the city on Wednesday evening to scenes of absolute mayhem, with fans climbing on top of each other to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars.

This was repeated outside the lone five-star hotel in the city, the Radisson Blu, where the players are staying. Fans queued since the wee hours of Thursday to try their luck at star-spotting, but went unrewarded.

“I have been here since 7am but haven’t seen any cricketer yet. It’s disappointing because I haven’t been able to get any tickets for the match, and this was probably my only chance to see them in flesh and blood,” said Joseph, a shopkeeper who left his family in charge and waited outside the hotel till mid-afternoon.

But not a single stand in the stadium has been named after the city’s most famous son. Maybe one day, when he has hung up his boots, Dhoni will be immortalised in the form of the JSCA Stadium being renamed after him.

For now, he can just be happy in the knowledge that he has played a significant role in changing the fortunes of his hometown.

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