They came not under the cover of night, but in the full glare of the March sun. Waving banners and burning effigies of their former hero, a baying mob laid siege to the under-construction house of Indian cricket’s fallen poster-boy Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the north-eastern city of Ranchi.
Things had looked pretty rosy for India, and for Dhoni in particular, during the run up to the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean. Consecutive 3-1 ODI series victories against the West Indies and Sri Lanka marked by the comeback of former captain Sourav Ganguly and the return of Sachin Tendulkar to his impe- rious best had propagated a wave of optimism among supporters on the subcontinent. Central to this overriding sense of imminent glory was the presence in the team of Dhoni. The swashbuckling, motorcycle riding, pin-up boy had already proven himself as one of the most devastating impact players in the world game courtesy of knocks like his record-breaking 183 not out against Sri Lanka in 2005 – an incredible innings that was amassed in just 145 balls and included 10 sixes. His form was just as eye-catching in the build-up to the World Cup, his 100- plus average for the two series against the Windies and the Sri Lankans giving extra ballast to his growing superstar status.
The scene was set for India to stake their claim for the world one-day crown and for Dhoni to cement his status as a doe-eyed deity in a country that, when things are going well at least, venerates its cricketers in the same way Christian evangelists value the Bible. They failed miserably. Defeats at the hands of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka sent India home early to face the music, which by this time had become as discordant as an inebriated sitar hoedown. Former stars such as Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar led the resounding chorus of condemnation for then captain Rahul Dravid’s team while posters of Dravid, out-of-form opener Virender Sehwag and other members of the side were burned at demonstrations the length and breadth of the country.