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January 18, 2013
With the local boy arriving in Ranchi as India captain for the third ODI against England, the city has been taken over by Dhoni mania. In neighbouring West Bengal, Sourav Ganguly still sends the locals berserk whenever he makes a public appearance. Ranchi has had to wait eight years after Dhoni's India debut to host its maiden international game. No wonder then that thousands lined the roads from the Birsa Munda airport to the team hotel, a sight that left MS Dhoni feeling "humbled". Getting in and out of the team hotel has been difficult, with people crowding the entrance and even prompting the police into a mild lathi charge.
To celebrate the occasion, a liquor shop put up posters of Dhoni and Alastair Cook and even lined its counters with bats and stumps. The authorities went a step further. The state aviation department has been roped in, and there are plans to have a glider fly over the stadium and scatter gulaal (pink-coloured powder) on the outfield during the inauguration ceremony, before the start of the match and during the innings break.
Students are demanding a holiday on Saturday, the match day, something schools, already hit by shutdowns because of a severe cold wave, can ill-afford. J Mohanty, principal of DPS [Delhi Public School] Ranchi, is benevolent, though. "This is a proud moment for Jharkhand," Mohanty told the Hindustan Times. "The cricket match will be on the students' minds and they will also have to wait outside the hotels for a glimpse of their cricketing heroes. So we will not hold any additional classes this weekend."
There is a reason Dhoni matters so much to Ranchi and Jharkhand, which had little to cheer when it was part of Bihar state and has had little to cheer since it was carved out in 2000. Political instability is common; central-government rule has just been imposed for the third time in the state's short existence. "Small-town boys from places like this just don't get to be captain of India," Ushinor Majumdar, Jharkhand correspondent for the Hindustan Times, told the Guardian. "And it is mostly because of Dhoni that there is so much attention. In many ways it is an under-developed, backward place. But it is known in cricket thanks to Dhoni."
International cricket in Jharkhand was restricted to the steel city of Jamshedpur, where Dhoni has played a couple of ODIs, including one against England in 2006, at Tata Steel's Keenan Stadium. It was the state association's desire to have its own stadium that enabled Ranchi to watch Dhoni play for India in the city.
Dhoni was clearly thrilled with the stadium at his hometown. "Personally, it's a special moment for me. The journey begins tomorrow. It's the beginning of a new innings," he said at a function inaugurating cricket's latest international venue*.
He said the 39,000-seater stadium will give Ranchi plenty of recognition. "When I first joined the team, people were asking me the place I belonged to," Dhoni said. "I used to say I am from India and the next thing I would say I am from a place called Ranchi in Jharkhand. I used to explain Ranchi, giving various routes like it is a place close to Kolkata, near Jamshedpur. We are the richest state in natural resources.
"But, after the stadium was built it has now become an international venue. At least, we need not have to explain further about Ranchi in the cricket playing nations. It is a proud beginning; proud moment for people of Jharkhand."
The mood in the city has already shown how proud Ranchi is of the double honour of making its international debut with a homegrown captain.
* January 18, 17.00GMT This story has been updated after the stadium's inauguration ceremony
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala