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Is Dhoni India's New Youth-icon?

Has Captain Cool’s sensational new mega endorsement deal propelled him to a new stratosphere for resurgent India’s aspirational youthfrat of humble background residing in small towns, dreaming of that one big break?

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Move over Big B, SRK and Sachin! There’s a new Pied Piper seducing Indian youth big time and presently, there are 210 reasons why he could well have it “Mahi-way”! The Indian skipper has just inked a record-breaking Rs. 210 crore ($45 million) endorsement deal with Rhite Sports Management–Mindscapes, edging out his boyhood hero Sachin Tendulkar’s Rs. 180 crores ($39 million) deal with Iconix in 2006. This makes Mahendra Singh Dhoni, according to Forbes magazine, “the world’s highest paid cricketer.”

 
Actress Preity Zinta and M S Dhoni in a commercial for Emami. 
The son of a retired work supervisor at Hindustan Steel, the 29-year-old Ranchi resident has indeed come a long way and proved (once again) that ultimately, it’s not lineage, dazzling metro cities, fancy clubs, coaches or gear that are important; it’s sheer, blazing, unputdownable talent that counts! Today M.S. is acknowledged by every self-respecting cricketer across the globe as a spectacular batsman, inspirational leader, Captain Cool, outstanding team-man with exceptional man-management skills … in short, a born leader! Add to that his sexy, boyish looks, his easy-to-relate charm, his positive attitude, his strong middle-class values in dealing with people, media and fans, his respect for the seniors … and one gets the drift of why Brand Dhoni is a winner.

Of course there are other reasons why the country’s most expensive sportsperson (a reported $1.3 million per endorsement and he has 24 brands in the kitty!) is the new trail-blazer and how, just six years into international cricket, he has overtaken scores of his celebrity seniors in the art of making friends, influencing people and seducing the mickey off sponsors and advertisers. As always, theories and views abound.

One section believes that more than anything else, his fighting spirit and the relentless battle to confront head-on and conquer overwhelming odds — no Godfather, no big-name coach, facilities, equipment, small town environment where cricket wasn’t a religion — is the key to his success. It has given him character, values, transparency and accountability. His small-town roots have taught him humility and respect. Little wonder that despite his glamorous and dazzling aura, Dhoni remains one of the most “un-starry” and nakhra-free celebs in the business, compared to scores of upstarts who lose it later.

Another section is convinced that India is a young country and Dhoni perfectly reflects, symbolizes and represents the best of today’s young India — talent, confidence, focus, hard work, aspiration, pursuit of excellence, values, success. Also, more than others, he is a true aspirational icon, because he is the small town kid who made it big in a fiercely competitive sport on the sheer merit of his amazing talent! First as a flamboyant and fearless striker of the cricket ball — Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar, Murli be damned! — and later as a leader of a team comprising several ex-captains and his boyhood hero, Dhoni learnt well and fast, to be acknowledged as a top-drawer captain.

 
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, with his wife, Sakshi Rawat, at the Madras Cricket Club
Every generation seeks an icon, and the recent picture of the young, handsome man with his childhood sweetheart, young, pretty, non-celeb wife beside him, waving to a crowd of cheering fans from the terrace of his Ranchi bungalow, could convincingly indicate that this generation has found theirs.

Ultimately it’s not just the mega deal or scores of brands that define the magic and mystique of Brand Dhoni. What makes him special and unique is the cool, composed and confident way he conducts his life and sport; the endearing charm, simplicity and transparency that he invests into his persona, making him totally accessible and comprehensible to anyone. A dynamic achiever who zoomed from nowhere-land to center-stage, M.S. Dhoni is an inspirational role-model for every kid of humble origin, living in the shadows, waiting for that impossible dream … 

 

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Sports | Magazine | August 2010

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