This version of the story appears in print in the January 2015 issue of The Caravan. It went to press before Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced his retirement from Test cricket on 30 December 2014.
BY CHENNAI STANDARDS it was cool, and rain hung heavy in the air, on 1 December 2005. In a stand just behind the pickets at Chepauk stadium, a young man sat surrounded by a small posse of journalists. In less than twenty-four hours, he would make his Test debut against Sri Lanka. If he was nervous he didn’t show it. “That question bores me,” he said coolly, when asked how his early years as a football goalkeeper had shaped his game. “I’m not going to talk about that any more.”
His preternatural confidence always marked Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a man apart. It was this quality that had caught the eye of the national selection committee when they went to watch the 2003–2004 Duleep Trophy final between North Zone and East Zone at Mohali, a year earlier. They were there primarily to check on the match fitness of Ashish Nehra, one of the country’s premier fast bowlers, just days before India embarked on a historic tour of Pakistan. Nehra, Aakash Chopra and Yuvraj Singh—all of whom would go on to be part of that successful trip—were playing for the North side. But the match’s main talking point occurred on the fourth day, when East began their pursuit of North’s score of 408.