“Half of Ranchi is weeping.” This statement from Narendra Singh Dhoni summed up what the cricketing fraternity in the Jharkhand capital was going through.
Santosh Lal, a first-class cricketer better known as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s childhood friend and inventor of the eye-catching helicopter shot, passed away on Monday. A victim of pancreatitis, he breathed his last at the Apollo Hospital in the Capital. Lal was just 29.
In the helicopter shot, popularised by MSD, the batsman digs a yorker ferociously with the bat forming a whipping arc in the follow through.
Close friends said that when MSD learnt about Lal’s sickness, he asked his friend’s family to get him the best treatment and that he would bear the expenses. It was on the India skipper’s behest that Lal was airlifted to New Delhi a few days ago.
On Tuesday, Narendra, MSD’s older brother, could barely talk. “Where do I start? And what do I say? I’ve just returned from my little brother’s funeral,” Narendra said, his voice choking with despair. “Nowadays, kids aren’t afraid to confront their elders. Bunty was someone who never raised his voice against those younger than him. He was a gem of a lad. God doesn’t create such men any more.”
Keshab Ranjan Banerji, MSD’s childhood coach, was also shocked. “Who dies at 29?” he cried. “Santosh didn’t study at our school (DAV, MECON Colony), but he used to train with us every day. Like Mahi, he was a terrific hitter. In fact, he is known as the king of tennis-ball cricket in these parts. It’s a pity Mahi is out of country,” said the man who prompted the football-crazy Dhoni to give up goalkeeping and take up wicketkeeping.
Lal’s body was brought to Ranchi on Monday afternoon. He was the sole breadwinner of the family and leaves behind his wife and a little girl.
Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) secretary Rajesh Verma informed that the association also extended financial help to the player’s family. “He was an honest cricketer and represented Jharkhand from 2004 and 2010. His helicopter shot tales are all too famous,” Verma said.
Locals say Lal used to smack yorkers for sixes at tennis ball tournaments. If nothing, Indian cricket owes it to Lal for sharing this secret with Dhoni.