"Bhaiya, mujhe bas Dhoni ek ka autograph chahiye. Book aur pen bhi le ke aaya hu bhaiya. Dhoni se milne aaya hu aur uska autograph lene aaya hu, apni classes ki exam bhi chhod ke aaya hu. Aap please kuch karo," (Brother, I just want Dhoni's autograph. I have even brought a notebook and pen with me. I just want to meet him and take an autograph, I have bunked my exams too. Please do something), 15-year-old Chandan pleaded as I walked into the East Stand of the Brabourne stadium in Mumbai.
Just like Chandan, there were many inside the stadium who wanted to meet Mahendra Singh Dhoni on Tuesday. They had come with a hope – the hope of a Dhoni special in his last match as captain in India colours, if not getting to meet their hero. Right from the day it was announced that Dhoni would be leading the India A side in the first warm-up match against England at the Brabourne stadium, the excitement had started to build up.
The officials announced free entry inside the stadium. There were reports that the official broadcaster had requested the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for live telecast of the match, which indeed took place. The officials of the Cricket Club of India (CCI) which owns the Brabourne stadium, were expecting an attendance of 15-20,000. Well, it lived up to the expectations. The excitement was palpable in and around the Brabourne as people started lining up outside the stadium from 9 am for a 1.30 pm start. There was a large number of college students, most of whom had bunked their classes and come in groups.
"I came to know about the match a couple of days ago via different websites. I was excited since then. I arrived here at 12 pm. I was planning to come early but since I had lectures, it got a bit late," Sidhant Shah, an engineering student told Firstpost.
Rajni Sharma, a teacher from Bhayandar – a suburb about 8 km from Mumbai city – and a big Dhoni fan, had visited a nearby area with her daughter and husband early in the morning for some work. She had enquired about the match but was misinformed. The family then headed back home only to find Dhoni's captaincy farewell match was indeed going to take place at the Brabourne, midway through their journey. So what next?
"We got to know about the match midway while in the train, so we quickly got down and boarded the return train back to Churchgate and reached the stadium in time for the toss," Rajni mixed relief with excitement.
"We came here at 9 am but still couldn't watch the practice session as there were long queues outside," BMS student Alok Pathak told Firstpost.
It was expected to be an emotional affair, but the first emotions were let out by Dhoni at the toss after experiencing a brilliant turnout. "Thanks to the fans, they've been behind me for a long time. Good for them to turn up. The fact that they've turned up for a warm-up game shows they love me," Dhoni said. Right from that moment, chants of "Dhoni... Dhoni..." echoed around the ground and it never really relented until the end of the India A innings.
After every wicket, the Dhoni chants reverberated inside the stadium. Shikhar Dhawan reached his fifty, there were just claps, no chants. When he got out in the 29th over, there was a huge roar, in anticipation of Dhoni walking out at No 4, but Yuvraj Singh strode out.
However, the southpaw making a comeback, received as much love, as the crowd started going "Yuvi... Yuvi..." Such was the craving for Dhoni, though, that a couple of fans in the stands got up and shouted, "Oye, Rayudu, out ho aye," (Hey Rayudu, please get out), when he was approaching his century.
The real hope of Dhoni's arrival came in the 41st over. Ambati Rayudu reached his century and got a standing ovation, but soon after raising his bat, he signalled towards the dressing room, probably hinting at retiring. The decibel levels rose inside the stadium. This may be the moment Dhoni arrives. But the wait got stretched as Yuvraj got ready to face the next ball. He took a single off the final ball of the over. Soon Rayudu had started walking back to the pavilion. That's when the crowd realised, finally, that was the moment. They went berserk as Dhoni strode out to the middle, in his typical style - an open-chested walk with bat tucked in the armpit, fiddling with the gloves and with a look towards the heavens.
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 10, 2017
"Imagining that he would bat for the last time as a captain of an Indian team, we had goosebumps," Smit Shah, another engineering student, described the emotions as Dhoni walked out to bat.
The crowd was shouting "Dhoni... Dhoni..." again. Poor Rayudu was lost somewhere in the background after scoring a century. There was a warm handshake with the captain near the boundary line as he made his way inside the dressing room. Yuvraj faced the next ball and managed to connect a pull which went straight to the fielder in the deep. There were 'oohs' and 'aahs' in the next four balls as Dhoni started off scratchily. Then, a single was cheered like a boundary when he finally got off the mark with a punch to deep cover.
Then, the Dhoni show began as he pulled, cut, slogged and paddle swept his way to 68 not out off 40 balls with eight fours and two sixes.
The farewell would have been incomplete without something outrageous. And it did happen in 47th over when a fan jumped the 10-feet fencing of the North Stand and burst towards Dhoni on the field. The umpires warned him from running on the pitch. He nearly lost his balance and a calm Dhoni offered him a hand. The fan just fell on to the ground to touch his feet while Dhoni and Hardik Pandya were having a conversation in middle of the pitch between overs. The stumbling spectator was finally escorted off the ground by the security personnel. At that moment, each one of the 20,000 in attendance would have wanted to be in place of that intruder.
"We actually felt that we should have gone there too. He was a lucky fan. It was a great experience for him as well," Sidhant spoke in disappointment.
"Aisa laga mai waha pe kyu nahi hu? (Why wasn't I there at that moment, I thought), but he shouldn't have broken the security rules. However, everyone has his own fanaticism and for him, Dhoni might be a god," Alok said with mixed emotions.
The fans were treated to a typical Dhoni innings, a cautious start followed by late flourish as he smacked 23 runs off the final over, from Chris Woakes to power India A past 300. Six, four, four, two, six. The final six, over deep mid-wicket, brought about a reaction from Jason Roy, who, standing at the long on boundary, turned towards the crowd behind him with a sheepish there's-nothing-I-can-do-about-this smile. Dhoni walked off to a rapturous applause.
"Bohot maza aa gaya Dhoni ka batting dekh ke, aisa laga ek sapna poora ho gaya," (Really enjoyed Dhoni's batting, it was a dream come true), Rajni beamed.
At the Brabourne, there was the Dhoni show, one which didn't disappoint the fans and then there were emotions all around.
"Though Dhoni is retiring as a captain, all the Dhoni moments, stumpings, running between the wickets, Helicopter shots, will be in our hearts forever," an emotional Smit says, as I was about to leave the stands at the end of the match.
A small section of crowd still continued the Dhoni chants even after India A's defeat. Brabourne gave Dhoni a rapturous farewell in his last match as captain of an India side and Dhoni obliged with a special innings.
"Dil jeetne wali innings thi, isse accha humko aur koi gift nahi mil sakta tha," (It was a heart-winning innings, we couldn't have received a better gift from him), an elated Alok signed off.