ICC World T20 - Men
My sit-down chat with India skipper MS Dhoni
What I thought was a fairly routine question for a 34-year-old skipper just eliminated from the World T20 turned me into an unwitting media spectacle
Sam Ferris is a Sydney-based journalist for cricket.com.au. He is the host of The Unplayable Podcast and co-creator of the hit web series In Case You Played And Missed It.
If you had told me that by the end of the night, after watching a stunning West Indies run chase in the World T20 semi-final, that I would share the press conference table with India captain MS Dhoni and end up on every TV news bulletin in the country, I would have flat out called you a lunatic.
I thought it was a pretty standard question to be fair. When Dhoni shocked the world with his Test retirement out of nowhere after the 2014 Boxing Day Test at the MCG, it caught everybody off-guard.
With that in mind, I was sure he would get asked again if he was going to retire from limited-overs cricket.
And it's not like at 34 years old hasn't achieved anything in white-ball cricket; he won the inaugural World T20 in 2007 in South Africa, hit the winning runs, a six no less, to win the 2011 50-over World Cup on home soil, and to complete the trifecta, took out the 2013 Champions Trophy in England.
But in case none of the India press pack was going to ask, I was ready.
Well, ready is probably not the right word. I can get nervous when asking questions at press conferences, but I thought it through, tried to keep it simple, and hoped I wouldn't mumble.
Press conferences operate on a rotation system, so when my turn rolled around, the question still had not been asked, and I went for it.
For the record, I never asked if he was going to retire, just how keen he was to play on. I'm not trying to retire one of the greats.
I even prefaced it with "You've achieved pretty much everything in cricket" to soften the blow and try to make me not look like some blood-thirsty mosquito looking for a headline (which I most definitely was).
Then he smiles and asks if I can repeat it. Great, I mumbled. I pony up again and ask, and instead of an answer I get an invitation.
An invitation to come join him on stage. At first I politely decline, but he insists.
Who am I to turn down India's greatest-ever captain?
I'm welcomed with a warm embrace, a sympathetic arm around my shoulder and a crisp white smile, the same smile I've seen on a dozen commercials featuring Dhoni on Indian television selling a vast range of products.
Having only experienced this situation from the other side of microphone, I took a quick glance up ahead to see what all the fuss is about and can only remember the bright lights and our cameraman/photographer 'Doc' snapping away in the aisle on his camera phone.
"Hello, sir," I said.
"Do you want me to retire?," said Dhoni straight out of the blocks.
"Ahh, no, that's what I was going to ask you," I blurt out.
Dhoni starts to explain that he hoped it was an Indian reporter that had asked him that question, and that if I didn't have a son or a brother who was willing to take his place, he would carry on.
"Do you think I'm unfit, looking at me running," another loaded question by Dhoni. He has a career in the media post his playing days, which as it turns out aren't anytime soon.
"No," I answer, "very fast."
"Do you think I can survive until the 2019 World Cup?" Dhoni said.
How do I answer this? I don't know? He can still clearly bat, his 'keeping is still sharp. But he's 34, with Virat Kohli waiting in the wings and a troop of elite young batsmen. Better answer quick!
"Umm … yes! Sure."
"Then you have the answer to your question."
"Thank you, sir."
I get off the stage, to slight applause and disbelieving laughter, then Dhoni explains again why he wanted an Indian reporter to ask the question.
"I wish it was an Indian media person," Doni explained to the media as I retake my seat. "Then I would have asked if he has a son who is a wicketkeeper and ready to play. He would have said no, then I would have said maybe a brother who is a wicketkeeper and who is ready to play.
"You fired the wrong ammunition at the wrong time."
Following the press conference I'm swamped by the local press. This is what the players must go through, and it's pretty daunting. I couldn't remember anything I said, what happened and I had to check my accreditation for my name.
Shortly after my phone is going nuts with Twitter notifications and I’m told I’m now ‘trending’. No one has ever called me trendy. Ever.
Word has it Dhoni hates that question and was ready to pounce on an Indian journalist who was going to ask it.
Even though I fired the wrong ammunition, it seems I took a bullet for my Indian colleagues.
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