x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

MS Dhoni, the curiously compelling India captain

With one swing, MS Dhoni gave India absolute joy and I, a cricket memory that may last forever.

MS Dhoni, left, is calmness personified after he launches the six which clinched the Cricket World Cup for India on Saturday.
MS Dhoni, left, is calmness personified after he launches the six which clinched the Cricket World Cup for India on Saturday.

The breaking news on Sunday in India breathlessly told that all the hair on MS Dhoni's head had succumbed to some miniature lawnmower and fallen to some floor. Reports did not elaborate on whether anybody had scooped it up and sold it.

Still, I found I could not mock this breaking news - and what a pity, that incapacity to mock - because I did wish to see Dhoni's freshly mowed skull, as I suddenly have grown fascinated with all things Dhoni.

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All Cricket World Cup coverage
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As someone who grew up to voting age unable to define "boundary" unless it meant that long line underneath Canada, I still struggle through the toddlerhood of my cricket consciousness, bearing roughly the cricket knowledge of an Indian five-year-old.

What?

OK, an Indian three-year-old.

Yet on Saturday evening in South Mumbai I saw something so jaw-droppingly impressive that it became the first searing memory of my cricket-viewing lifetime.

I saw a man come to bat with just about the whole world coming unglued from its axis, if you will pardon the understatement.

I saw his face with the third wicket fallen and India at 114, and I remember distinctly what I read on that face at that moment, knowing hardly 10 things about the man.

Translation of face: I know about one billion of you are worried. I know Sehwag has gone out even before some of you got back from the loo. I know Tendulkar has followed sombrely, and I know you all feel sad because the daydream plot has gone to shards. I know Malinga has been out there auditioning for "Strictly Come Dancing." If I bothered to squint I reckon I might see some of your furrowed faces. But I just want you to know that I am here. I am here to put a stop to this lunacy. You can feel safe because I am here.

It was a lot to read upon a face, but luckily cricket allows time for rumination.

I remember thinking straight-away that Dhoni must have some gigantic intestines to step out there with that look, at that moment.

The broadcasters declared he had promoted himself in the order and even I understood that, so more was the audacity.

I remember expecting some sort of quick flourish given that look, but that he started off with some little harmless thing for which I don't even know the term.

I then remember, of course, knowing he must have some gigantic intestines given the mastery that followed mostly in tandem with Guatam Gambhir, a show of determination so compelling that it all but took on tangible and metallic qualities.

They call Dhoni's score "91 not out" but I am disappointed they lack terminology such as "91 most certainly not out".

Since then, I have thought and thought about what happened on Saturday evening in South Mumbai, and I have thought about team sports that trade largely on individual performance, and about how Dhoni called to mind basketball's Michael Jordan for forging mirth out of mayhem in such a cool manner at such a huge moment.

Yet while Chicago can be heavy for carrying, India is tons heavier. For a 29-year-old person to go out there before two billion eyeballs during unprecedented urgency and disregard a whole rancid bouquet of common human fears, that trumps even Dhoni's prior reputation for coolness.

Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of future criticism, fear of the stage, fear of being called mean names for the rest of one's life … all those things people fear, he spurned, and maybe even disdained.

And to bring along that countenance while doing so - I am here; you are safe - and then to treat your own closing, skyrocketing a six with something tilting toward nonchalance …

Well, that guy must be the coolest guy ever.

And so I think of that helpless being, the fanatic.

He or she often exists in a perpetual state of fear or dread or fret, knowing how defeat can sting for days and weeks and months, ruining meals and sleeps and life in general.

Yet he or she has zero control. All he or she can crave is that somebody will step out there and quell the havoc and right the ship and soothe the nerves, as rare as that person may be.

Nobody ever did all that any more awesomely than Dhoni steering the heavy bus that seemed to carry all India.

He is my first big cricket memory and, besides, I like his new haircut.

cculpepper@thenational.ae