'The cameras used to pass by, now they stop for me'

Mahendra Singh Dhoni talks to S Rajesh about his sudden rise to fame, his penchant for milk, and his other passions. The interview first appeared in the May issue of Wisden Asia Cricket.

What was Virender Sehwag's reaction to your 148 at Visakhapatnam?
He didn't talk much, but seeing his face I could tell that he was really happy. Whatever problems I have [with my batting] I share with him. I ask Rahul [Dravid] and Sachin [Tendulkar] as well, but the main thing is my batting style resembles Sehwag's - both of us are flamboyant, and we face the same sort of problems. And he is far more experienced at international level. So he is guiding me as well.

How different is it batting with Sehwag, as compared to batting with someone like Dravid?
Sehwag is completely different - since he's scoring at eight or nine an over, it gives you time to settle in. I feel quite relaxed when I'm batting with Sehwag. With him I can say, 'Paaji fine leg andar bula liya, chauka hai' [fine leg has been brought in, there's a boundary for the taking]. Dravid is more intense, and with him there would be more discussions on strategy, on building an innings - even if I play six dot-balls, he'd ask me to relax, to concentrate, to hit straight and not go for big shots.

The attention you're getting now must be quite a change?
It's all come overnight. The cameras used to pass by me; now they're stopping for me.

Do you think it's more attention than you deserve?
I don't really think too much about it. If I'm doing well, then it's good. If not, then all the publicity will automatically stop. I guess it's in my nature to be level-headed, so that helps me cope with this sudden change. But definitely I will have to change at some point. I cannot meet everyone all the time. The main thing is to perform in a match; I cannot allow all this to distract me.

Your batting technique is quite unusual. How did it come about?
It is quite natural to me. This is the way I batted when I started off; it isn't like I adapted my technique. John [Wright] gave me just one piece of advice - give the first 20 balls to the bowlers, then the rest of the match is yours. I try to keep this in mind every time I walk out to bat.

How did you take to cricket in the first place?
My dad and my brother were more keen on football, but I used to play canvas-ball cricket while at school in Ranchi, and we would have cricket coaching camps in the summer vacations. That's how I started. Then I played for my school, got some runs, and was selected for the Under-19 state team. The first year was okay for me, but in my second year we qualified for the finals of the Cooch Behar Under-19 tournament, losing to Punjab. That opened the door for me, and I made my Ranji Trophy debut in 1999-2000 for Bihar.

Were you good at studies?
Till the 10th standard I was quite good - I got 66% that year. After my 10th, I got really involved with cricket, so I didn't have any time to study. And my parents didn't push me either, which was very good for me.

Who was your hero when you were growing up?
Of course, Sachin [Tendulkar]. He was already a star when I was in my formative years At that time I had no idea who Vivian Richards was. For me, Tendulkar was the biggest hero.

Did you ever think about shifting base to a stronger state, which would give you more visibility and a better chance of making it to the Indian team?
I never really thought about it. I knew it would be a fraction harder for me to represent India since I was playing for a weak state like Jharkhand, but it only meant that I would have to score regularly in the Duleep and Deodhar Trophy matches. So I decided to concentrate on that.

Are you happy with the state of cricket in Jharkhand?
We are doing pretty well - we reached the semi-finals of the Ranji this year. Things are changing, the infrastructure is improving, the players are getting more facilities. It's definitely moving in the right direction.

Is it true that you drink four litres of milk a day?
Ravi Shastri said that in the post-match presentation at Visakhapatnam, but I don't consume four litres of milk in a day; it's closer to around one litre of buffalo milk. Now I've shifted to milkshakes, but I ensure that I get my daily quota.

Apart from cricket, what are your other passions?
I love animals: I have a dog at home, named Sam, and I'm planning to get another one, a big German Shepherd, soon. When I'm at home, I love playing action-oriented computer games. And I'm really crazy about sports bikes. In four to five months, I hope to own a Suzuki Hayabusa.