One of the first impressions you get while reading Bharat Sundaresan’s The Dhoni Touch: Unravelling the Enigma that is Mahendra Singh Dhoni, is that this is the book version of the official biopic of the former India captain that was released a couple of years ago, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story.
Sundaresan, it appears, got his inspiration to write the book after watching the movie, particularly the first half. These 90-odd minutes of the 190-minute-long movie were thoroughly enjoyable as it traced Dhoni’s breakthrough at school level in Ranchi and described how he, with the guidance and support of his family, a close bunch of friends, his school coach and his first couple of employers, struggled his way out of the small, industrial town to knocking on the doors of the Indian team.
Sundaresan too heads to Ranchi to trace Dhoni’s roots and speaks with a lot of the characters who featured in the first half of the movie. That’s not to say that those who have watched the movie will find nothing new in Sundaresan’s book. The author has managed to get the people who know Dhoni to delve further into the psyche of the cricketer. The book has enough interesting tidbits and anecdotes to keep readers hooked through its 206 pages, like how Dhoni’s father used to try and secretly watch him play at the cricket ground near their government housing colony in Ranchi, despite not being too enthused about his career choice.
However, after finishing the book, you can’t help but feel that though this is not an official biography, it still feels as if it actually is authorised by the cricketer, like the movie was. Sundaresan, one of the finer cricket journalists in the country, had a chance to investigate and tell the story of how Dhoni waded through the more controversial moments of his career, which the official biopic obviously skipped.
However, in The Dhoni Touch, there are only fleeting mentions of the the Indian Premier League betting scandal, which involved Dhoni’s team Chennai Super Kings, his relationship with his estranged elder brother Narendra, who is completely missing in the movie, the allegations of conflict of interest against Dhoni, and his decision to retire from Test cricket midway through an important Test series against Australia.
Whether Sundaresan tried but failed to get anyone to talk about the above-mentioned topics, or whether he too chose to ignore them, is something only he will know. But it won’t be surprising if it is indeed the former.
An interview with MSD is like the holy grail of Indian cricket journalism. In the beginning of the book, Sundaresan writes about how he chased Dhoni during the 2017 IPL to give him an interview, and how the cricketer stalled him and eventually turned him down, before putting him in touch with Chittu, one of his closest friends in Ranchi.
While Chittu and Dhoni’s other friends never deviate from a script that the cricketer would have approved, even the other people that Sundaresan spoke to – including Colonel Vembu Shankar, who reveals the extent of the cricketer’s fascination with the Indian army, S Chockalingam, an ad-film director whose company came up with CSK’s famous “Whistle Podu” campaign, former India wicketkeeper and chief selector Kiran More, who paved the way for Dhoni’s entry into team India, and former cricketer VB Chandrasekhar, who was the chief selector of CSK – also appear to toe the line.
In many ways, Sundaresan unravels the enigma of Dhoni only to the extent Dhoni allows him to. There isn’t anything in the book that the cricketer would not have liked to be published – and this is the book’s only failure.
Perhaps investigating the many controversies of Dhoni wasn’t on Sundaresan’s to-do list, but if the intention behind writing this book was to find out “what lies behind Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s calm and unflappable facade”, as mentioned in the synopsis on the back cover, what the cricketer went through and how he handled those controversies is undoubtedly one of the reasons behind the formation of that “unflappable facade”.
One of Sundaresan’s finest stories as a journalist is his tracking down of former West Indies fast bowler Patrick Patterson, whose whereabouts were unknown for nearly 25 years. It took Sundaresan three tours to the Caribbean over six years to find Patterson and tell his story. In comparison, The Dhoni Touch appears to have been written within a year, from what Sundaresan reveals.
You can’t help but wonder what if the author had been as patient while trying to decipher one of the most inscrutable sportspersons in India.