Sometime ago, I had written an article on the role of a "pioneer" in leading the growth of a sport in a region. Had put in quite a few examples to present my case. But the important thing was all the examples presented were of individual sports. Indian chess, Russian tennis etc. Hadn't quite come up with any example for a team game as such.
However the India-England ODI in Ranchi last Saturday got me thinking again on these lines. It wasn't just any other random ODI. It was a celebration of Dhoni's legacy. The home town boy leading the national team in the first ever international match in the city. And Dhoni provided the perfect fairy tale as well - from winning the toss to hitting the winning runs. Fairytales hardly get any better.
Why do I refer to this game as Dhoni's legacy, when he still has a few good years to go? The answer is simple. If Dhoni hadn't been the player he was, its quite unlikely that Ranchi would have got such an impressive stadium and certainly not hosting this game. After all Keenan stadium in Jamshedpur has been the one hosting whenever Bihar/Jharkhand were allotted a game. It was the back-up provided by the Tatas who had built the necessary infrastructure. And now its Dhoni's immense popularity and success which has brought the sponsors flocking to Ranchi, his home town. And Ranchi which hardly hosted Ranji games certainly wouldn't have been hosting an international one.
And it is not just the paying public in Ranchi who have benefited from Dhoni's success. The benefits have started moving down to Jharkhand cricket all around. Before Dhoni made his international debut, there were very few cricketers from Bihar (Jharkhand hadn't been created then) who had made it to the national team but did not have much success. Ramesh Saxena, Subroto Banerjee, Saba Karim did make it to the Indian team but hardly made much of an impact. Saba Karim had to shift to Bengal before getting an India call. However an unfortunate eye injury cut short his career.
Now lets look at the post-Dhoni era in Jharkhand cricket. Saurabh Tiwary and Varun Aaron have made their India debuts. Though currently neither of them is in the team due to form and injury issues. If all are available currently Jharkhand can field three internationals in their playing XI. Now thats something which would have been considered almost unthinkable even ten years ago. No wonder the team reached the Ranji knockouts.
As for the home game, haven't seen so much fanfare even for the 2011 world cup final. After vall, how many stadiums get an opening ceremony? 40000 noisy fans were there to cheer for their boy. Amongst them were at least 15000 with whom Dhoni must have played cricket with (his words, not mine). The result seemed incidental. They hadn't come to watch just India play. They had come to watch Dhoni. And their boy certainly didn't disappoint them
Certainly Dhoni has already built his legacy. This game was the perfect celebration.