If you’re an active Indian cricketer, you tend to be a very active Indian cricketer. There are off days, but they tend to strewn all over the calendar, and not strung together like a pearl necklace. In such hyper-hectic, blink-and-you-miss-the-next-match times, an Indian cricketer is left with little choice but to construct a fortress of form, built on runs, big, big runs, or wickets, loads ‘n loads of wickets. Even bowling machines have it easier.
Still, with solid form is built a solid reputation, and a very few, the elite of Indian cricket, can dream and actually take time off cricket. It’s because they are an industry to themselves – and every successful industry must have an aura, a rather unusual one at that. Bordering on freaky at times.
So when the big boys chill, they end up doing some fairly weird things. This is beyond what you see on their Instagram or Facebook pages; this is insider dope, the fuel that makes them what they are – sane in spite of the insanity.
Mahi, the ventriloquist
Take for instance, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He spends hours locked up in his Trophy House talking to his stumps. Not just that, he even plays ventriloquist and speaks for the stumps. Once overheard, “Oh Mahi, I still remember when you picked me up, me, the middle stump, off and leg were so upset, but ME in the middle, that was a lotta fun.” Only to hear Mahi reply, “Yes, I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had hit yet another six, excuse my modesty, or don’t, of course it was the last ball, and I saw you standing tall in the middle, calling out to me, 'Mahi, come get me, get me,' I just had to have you.”
MSD’s other idiosyncrasies, and he has a few, include racing bikes with his guards – he always gives them the better machine and a head-start to boot, revving up only at the finish line where he pulls off a death-defying stunt, a manoeuvre that’s pretty much the equivalent of a six in biking parlance – a good 10-15 meters behind the guards, he takes off, pulling off a Rajnikant – soaring past the guards, meeting the guards at the finish line flipping an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
Leaving it late
Then there’s Virat Kohli, and his love of unlikely chases on the Delhi-Mumbai flight. He makes it to the airport well before time, only to wait it out 120 seconds before the gates close. Not having check-in baggage helps. Virat has homes and a change of clothes in both cities. He bolts through – a quick frisk at security, a dash through the last 100 metres, and just as the door is about to close, he slows down, nonchalantly handing his boarding pass to a Namaste from the air hostess. That he sits in the first row's aisle seat ensures he doesn’t disturb anyone.
On reaching Delhi, Virat catches up with his Delhi buddies who always tell him he’s getting a little soft and too metrosexual – together they spar in some hardcore Delhi desi filthy niceties. Virat admits he’s going soft, and not swearing on the field that much, especially since he’s become captain, has taken some of the edge of his expletives.
Sleep, pranks and tattoos
Then there’s Ajinkya Rahane, who just likes to sleep. He gets so tired with all that practice and looking intense and honest all the time, he just needs to shrug it off, dozing off for marathon afternoon naps, after an honest home-cooked Marathi lunch.
As for Ashwin, he gets off playing pranks and making sure he doesn’t have to run at all while catching flights – he reaches the airport up to three hours before takeoff for even domestic flights. He spends his time going up to strangers locked into their phones asking for their autographs, usually with a – “Hello sir, aren’t you that famous cricketer?” Ashwin also takes a pocket magnet chess board and plays with himself, sitting on both sides of the board, changing his voice for both players: one speaks in Southie English, the other in chaste Tamil.
Everyone knows Shikhar Dhawan loves to get himself inked. Unlike his batting, he doesn’t favour one side. His love for tattoos makes him read about the art, even though the only written stuff are the captions below the tattoos. Dhawan also has a deep love for Sufi music. He spends hours tattooing his favourite sufi singers on PhotoShop. “They must look as good as they sing”, he says, with that broad smile of his.
Hair today, gone tomorrow
But the one thing that unites all Indian cricketers is their love for grooming their hair, especially their facial hair. A deadpan Jadeja puts it all in perspective, “As someone smart said, hair is today, gone tomorrow – we want to live in present and work on hair before it is gone tomorrow.” To which KL Rahul shrugs and says, “Dude, what are you saying, it’s hair today…” But just then Virat walks in doing some bhangra. Stuart Binny follows him, he’s holding a drink.
However plausible this sounds, this is largely a work of fiction.