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How Dhoni made India fall for T20 cricket

02 April 2016

Dhoni has played a huge role in India's love of the 20-over game // Getty Images

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He couldn't lead India to a World T20 triumph at home, but MS Dhoni's Twenty20 legacy is already secure

So MS Dhoni is not going anywhere.

We know as much because, in the moments after India’s loss to the West Indies, Dhoni encouraged cricket.com.au journalist Sam Ferris to take a seat next to him as he expressed a desire to play until the 2019 World Cup.

WATCH: Our journo sits down with MS Dhoni

And yet this was still an ending of sorts - the last ever time Dhoni will play in an ICC tournament in India.

Even Dhoni doesn’t have the chutzpah to pretend that he might play on until the 2021 Champions Trophy.

There is a chance, too, that Dhoni has played his final international T20 match. The next WT20 tournament scheduled is for Australia at the end of 2020 and bilateral T20Is suffer from a lack of context and meaning, making it difficult to see what MS has to gain by playing in any more.

Quick Single: My sit down chat with MS Dhoni

If that is indeed the case - and there's no guarantee that it is - it means that the man who made India fall for T20 may never play for the country in the format again.

As the IPL prepares to lumber up for its ninth season, it has long been forgotten how sceptical the BCCI and the Indian public initially were of T20’s worth.

It was not until April 2007, four years after the format had been launched in England, that India held its first domestic T20 tournament. Even then, no one thought to televise the matches. 

The BCCI were deeply resistant to T20.

They thought they did not need it; 50-over cricket was already hugely popular in India, and for TV networks there is far less scope for adverts in Twenty20 than ODIs.

"Twenty20? Why not ten-ten or five-five or one-one?" said Niranjan Shah, the BCCI Honorary Secretary, in the ICC board meeting in March 2006 when a World T20 competition was discussed.

"India will never play T20," he added.

In the end a compromise was reached; the first WT20 would take place in September 2007, but, unlike with normal ICC events, participation from full members would not be compulsory.

So it looked like India would not send a team to South Africa for the inaugural tournament at all.

WATCH: They key moments of India v West Indies

But in the months after the first WT20 tournament was agreed to, India and the other Test-playing Asian nations were bidding to host the 2011 World Cup late, only to miss the deadline.

Here the ICC acted shrewdly. Ehsan Mani, then the ICC President, later said he told representatives, "I would consider giving them another opportunity to make a compliant submission on the condition that the BCCI and the other three Asian countries supported all ICC events and in particular agreed to participate in the inaugural T20 WC. The BCCI reluctantly agreed."

It had been a convoluted process, but India would be competing in the 2007 WT20.

Only not with a team including their stars of the era; Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid all withdrew their availability, or were not selected, in another apparent shown of disregard for the format.

India did not arrive in South Africa to great expectations, especially after their disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean in 2007.

At 26, Dhoni was appointed captain, the first ever time he had led India in any format.

Two heady weeks ensued.

WATCH: MS Dhoni in his own words

India won a bowl-out with Pakistan. Yuvraj Singh thrashed six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad. An epic semi-final, still one of the finest games in T20 history, was played out against Australia. And on September 24, 2007, Dhoni entrusted the medium-pacer Joginder Sharma to defend 13 from the last over of the final against Pakistan.

Sharma’s first delivery betrayed his tension. It was hurled so far away wide of the off stump that it ended up off the pitch altogether. Pakistan’s fans responded to the umpire’s signal with a huge outcry of delight.

Now Dhoni ran to calm down his bowler. Sharma responded with a delivery that swung away outside off stump. Misbah-ul-Haq could only swing and miss. It was the Indian contingent’s turn to celebrate.

Not for long. The next delivery was an egregious full toss. Misbah, already striding down the wicket, harrumphed it straight down the ground for six.

A repeat would clinch the first World T20 for Pakistan. Dhoni betrayed his impenetrable demeanour, furrowing his brow as he returned from talking to Sharma. Perhaps he regretted asking him, and not Harbhajan Singh, to bowl the final over.

MS Dhoni
Dhoni celebrates India's win at the 2007 World T20 // Getty Images

The next ball, once again, was well outside off stump. There was no reason for Misbah to digress from what had worked so well the previous delivery. Instead, he shuffled across his crease and attempted to scoop the ball over fine leg, a shot he had played with distinction throughout the tournament.

The problem was that Sharma was rather too slow to play the shot against and there was not enough pace on the ball.

So, rather than hurtle towards the fine leg boundary, the ball remained marooned in the air. Sreesanth grasped the catch with a nonchalance that defied the pressure of the moment.

Misbah slouched to his knees in despair, unable to rag himself away from the ground, India’s entire support staff ran on to the field in their joy, and the players were soon embraced by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.

In a format India did not care for a fortnight earlier, hundreds of Indian tricolours now waved proudly in the crowd and far beyond.

Sharma would never play international cricket again. He is now Deputy Superintendent of Police in Haryana.

MS Dhoni
Dhoni has long been one of the stars of the IPL // Getty Images

But Dhoni, his brash, motorbike-riding captain, would rise and keep rising; both cause and effect of India’s newfound infatuation with T20.

His permanently smiling face features ubiquitously in commercials on Indian television. He has been at the core of the IPL’s success captaining the most successful, though now defunct, franchise, the Chennai Super Kings.

And when India played the 2011 World Cup final in the Wankhede Stadium, Dhoni sealed the victory with a six.

Against the West Indies at the Wankhede on Thursday, Dhoni entrusted the final over to Virat Kohli, a scenario he would never have imagined while plotting India’s WT20 campaign.

WATCH: Windies knock India out of World T20

With the dew undermining spin, Dhoni believed he did not have a choice.

Perhaps he imagined that Kohli, preferred to the senior off-spinner Ravi Ashwin just as Sharma had been to Harbhajan, could do what Sharma had. He could not.

The Wankhede was silenced, and a billion Indians left distraught.

But in a sense their agony at defeat in a game of T20 cricket was the greatest testament to Dhoni of all.

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