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'It's in my nature to be aggressive'

April 06, 2005 10:56 IST
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Mahendra Singh DhoniThere are shades of Adam Gilchrist in Mahendra Singh Dhoni when he wields the willow. For good measure, even with the gloves he appears to be quite safe. Always bubbling with enthusiasm, Dhoni's impressive height, athletic body and neck-length tresses -- not speak of his awesome batting in the second one-dayer at Vishakapatnam -- have made him a crowd darling. His whirlwind ways at the crease only add to his flamboyance. Like Gilchrist, he also opens the innings in domestic one-day cricket and, again like the left-handed Aussie, he treats bowlers with disdain.

Born in Ranchi on July 7, 1981, Dhoni made his Ranji Trophy debut for Bihar in 1999-2000. Now, of course, he represents Jharkhand after the new statwe came into being. He was just one of the numerous first-class cricketers in India until last year. But 2004 turned out to be a watershed in Dhoni's career.

Representing East Zone, the right-hander lit up domestic cricket with his blazing blade, scoring a scorching century in the Deodhar Trophy final and a breezy 60 in the Duleep Trophy final. He was picked for the India A side for the triangular one-day series in Kenya, where he hit two brilliant hundreds in his belligerent style against Pakistan A and made people very aware of his very special talents.

Dhoni's dramatic ascent coincided with the sudden decline in the standard of Parthiv Patel's wicketkeeping. With Dinesh Kaarthick replacing Patel in the Test team, and Rahul Dravid reluctant to don the stumper's gloves in the shorter version of the game, the five wise men of Indian cricket decided to give Dhoni a chance in the one-day series in Bangladesh.

Though Dhoni did nothing extraordinary in the three ODIs against Bangladesh, it was only a matter of time before he exploded on the big stage, and that happened at Vishakapatnam on Tuesday.

He spoke to Haresh Pandya recently:

Don't you think things are beginning to happen too suddenly and too fast in your career?

I feel very excited and encouraged about it. I am sure it will goad me on to give my very best to my country and justify the selectors' faith in me. The Bangladesh tour was a learning experience for me and I look forward to playing against Pakistan to the best of my ability.

Did you expect the India cap so soon, especially when both Parthiv Patel and Rahul Dravid had been keeping regularly in Tests and ODIs not long ago?

Yes and no. I was always confident of my ability. I knew I was going to play for my country. It was only a matter of time. I think I am at the peak of my prowess and the opportunity for me to represent India couldn't have come at a better time. I have performed quite well after the Bangladesh tour, both behind and in front of the stumps, and it has added substantially to my confidence.

You always give the impression of being supremely confident of your ability.

Self-confidence has always been one of my good qualities. I am always very confident. It is in my nature to be confident, to be aggressive. And it applies in my batting as well as wicketkeeping.

People still talk more about your batting than wicketkeeping.

It doesn't matter to me personally so long as I am doing well with the gloves and am confident about my ability as a wicketkeeper. Maybe because I bat aggressively and go for big hits at times, people tend to remember my batting.

But I have always done well as a stumper too. For instance, in Kenya for India A and in the ODIs in Bangladesh.

Do you call yourself a wicketkeeper-batsman or a batsman-wicketkeeper?

When India is fielding, I am a wicketkeeper-batsman; when India is batting, I am a batsman-wicketkeeper! But, seriously, both are my main jobs. I have to specialise in both of them. I can't afford to be less than 100 percent in any of the two roles. I think they complement each other and give me my identity.

Dhoni celebrates after reaching his century in the second ODI against PakistanDon't you agree that your devastating batting tends to overshadow your wicketkeeping, howsoever good it may be?

Maybe you are right. But I am helpless about it! My batting has always been my stronger point, much more than my wicketkeeping. But it doesn't mean my wicketkeeping isn't good. Far from it.

How realistic are you about your chances of playing Test cricket?

Test cricket is definitely my next goal, my ambition. Who doesn't want to play Test cricket? I am very hopeful about that. I think if I perform well, and maintain my form, I will definitely get a break in Test cricket too. It is an open field. But I am not in a hurry.

How comfortable are you keeping to spinners in particular?

I am comfortable keeping to fast bowlers. I think there is some scope for improvement in my wicketkeeping against spinners, especially a leg-spinner like Anil Kumble. No one is perfect. If Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are bowling into the rough, you have to be extra cautious as a wicketkeeper.

You seem to have modelled your game on Adam Gilchrist.

Yes, of course. He is definitely my idol.

How do you feel when people call you India's Gilchrist?

Frankly, I stand nowhere near Gilchrist. I have still miles to go in my career. There is no way I can be compared with him in any way. It won't be justified. He is more destructive than me.

Have you ever met him?

No, not yet. But I have had good advice and valuable tips from Syed Kirmani, Kiran More, Nayan Mongia and Rodney Marsh.

How has been the encouragement and guidance from senior Indian cricketers?

They are all very helpful to a newcomer like me. Sourav Ganguly helped me a lot on the Bangladesh tour.

Have you been a wicketkeeper since you began playing cricket?

Very much, sir. I have always been a wicketkeeper.

How do you compare with other wicketkeepers in India today?

I think I have something new in me. I am a bit bulky. I have good height. So compared to the others, I am a bit different.

What's your background?

I hail from a middle-class family. As a sportsman, football was my first love. I played serious soccer for a couple of years before I took up cricket.

What position did you play as a footballer?

A goalkeeper. So it is quite natural that I became a wicketkeeper when I switched to cricket! I didn't have any difficulty in changing myself from a goalie to a stumper.

Your hairstyle is one of the features of your personality.

Thanks for the compliment. My long hair has been only there since the last year or so. I had earlier shaved my hair off. I used to keep very long hair when I was in school, and playing soccer. I used to have short and spiky hair after I began playing cricket.

About a year ago I decided to change my hairstyle completely. Besides giving me a personality, the new hairstyle has brought me luck as well! I have been doing very well since I have started growing my hair. So my long hair has something to do with superstition also!

Photographs: AFP/Getty Images

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