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Lt Col Dhoni, set for new guard

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is set to prove his mettle on the trouble-torn South Kashmir turf, not as a cricketer but as a soldier

By Muzaffar Raina in Srinagar

  • Published 26.07.19, 1:54 AM
  • Updated 26.07.19, 1:54 AM
Cricketer MS Dhoni during the felicitation ceremony after a grant of honorary rank of Lt Colonel in the Territorial Army, in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Cricketer MS Dhoni during the felicitation ceremony after a grant of honorary rank of Lt Colonel in the Territorial Army, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Prem Singh

Former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is set to prove his mettle on the trouble-torn South Kashmir turf, not as a cricketer but as a soldier.

The 38-year-old World Cup winning skipper will spend a fortnight with the Indian Army in Kashmir Valley during which he will undertake patrolling duty and other responsibilities as part of the Territorial Army (TA), sources in the army headquarters said on Thursday.

Dhoni, who has taken a break from cricket for two months to train for the army, holds an honorary post of Lieutenant Colonel in the Parachute regiment of the Territorial Army.

A statement from the army said: “Lieutenant Colonel (honorary) MS Dhoni is proceeding to 106 TA battalion (para) for being with the battalion from July 31 to August 15. The unit is in Kashmir Valley as part of Victor Force.”

“As requested by the officer and approved by Army Headquarters, he will be taking on the duties of patrolling, guard and post duty and would be staying with the troops,” the statement said.

Dhoni had written to the army top brass about his intention to serve his battalion in the Valley.

“He (Dhoni) won’t be part of CI Ops (Counter insurgency Operations) but will be taking duties of patrolling and guard duties,” an officer said under cover of anonymity. “He will be treated like any other soldier while undergoing the intense training.”

Dhoni is part of the Bangalore-based 106 Territorial Army battalion (Para) of the army — also known as Bengaluru Terries, which is presently posted in the Valley as part of the counter insurgency Victor Force.

A constituent of the Rashtriya Rifles, Victor Force is headquartered in South Kashmir’s Awantipora and is responsible for counter-insurgency ops in four south Kashmir districts — Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag — and central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

The force has been at the forefront of the fight against militancy in the south of the Valley, which has emerged as the nerve centre of the Azadi movement following the 2016 summer unrest.

The Territorial Army draws its men from volunteers who receive military training and are mobilised for the country’s defence in case of an emergency.

In 2015, Dhoni became a qualified paratrooper after he completed five parachute training jumps from Indian Army aircraft in the Agra training camp.

Dhoni, as a cricketer, never got an opportunity to play in Kashmir.

The Valley has hosted only two ODIs, both before the inception of militancy in 1989, the first in 1983 between India and West Indies and the other in 1986 between India and Australia.

Dhoni joined international cricket much later.

But as part of the army, he visited Kashmir in 2017, when the Valley was still reeling from the aftershocks of the 2016 unrest.

The army then had to face embarrassment as a section of the crowd watching a match organised for local residents by the army where Dhoni was present, was rocked by “Boom Boom Afridi” slogans.

Militancy and stone throwing have largely ebbed in South Kashmir since and there are unlikely to be any problems this time.

Though Territorial Army recruits take part in counter insurgency operations, Dhoni’s 106 battalion, according to sources, is responsible for carrying out static duty of guarding installations.

The battalion had a moment of pride last year when Captain Pradeep Shourya Arya bagged the third highest peacetime gallantry award, Shaurya Chakra, for his efforts in preventing infiltration on borders.

Captain Arya is a 2004 Indian Revenue Service officer who had volunteered to be part of the Territorial Army. He is the first and so far only IRS officer to receive a gallantry award.

Questions have been raised about Dhoni’s cricketing future after India’s semi-final exit from the World Cup. There have been murmurs about his retirement, though the former skipper has himself not spoken about the issue.

Additional reporting by Imran Ahmed Siddiqui

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