Team India's star all-rounder Hardik Pandya has lavished praise on MS Dhoni while sharing his close relationship with the former captain and the current mentor of the national team.
Pandya explained how and when Dhoni provided him the kind of support which was required at certain stages during his career, including when the all-rounder was suspended by the BCCI in 2019 for comments made on a TV talk show.
"MS was someone who understood me from the start: how I function, what kind of a person I am, what are the things I don't like, everything. When I was picked for the New Zealand series [in January 2019, after the suspension was revoked], initially there were no hotel rooms [for Pandya in New Zealand]. But then I get a call, saying, "You just come. MS has told us, 'I don't sleep on the bed [in any case]. He will sleep on my bed and I will sleep on the floor.'" He [Dhoni] was the first person who has been always there. He called me around the same time I had the conversation with Akash [Ambani]," Pandya told ESPNcricinfo.com.
"He knows what kind of an individual I am. He knows me quite deep. I am very close to him. He is the only person who can make me calm. When all this happened, he knew that I needed support. I just needed a shoulder, which he provided multiple times in my cricketing career.
"I never saw him as MS Dhoni the greatest. For me, Mahi is my brother. I respect and admire the fact that he was there when I needed him the most," he added.
Hardik also stated that MS Dhoni is a life coach for him.
"In a certain way, yes. We have lovely conversations. As I said, only Mahi can make me understand certain things. Sometimes if I get strong-headed and I go into that zone and I believe some things, I have to call him and say, "Yeh soch rahan hoon, kya chal raha hai, batao." [This is on my mind. What do you think?] Then he will explain. So, yes, in a lot of ways he is a life coach," he said.
"Staying with him, obviously, you learn to be mature, you learn to become humble. I have learned a lot by watching him. He never loses his cool."
Interestingly, this would be India's first World Cup campaign since Dhoni retired in 2020 and the side will open its campaign against Pakistan on October 24 here.
"The biggest so far, I will say, because this time I don't have Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Everything is on my shoulders -- I like to think that way because it gives me an added challenge. It is going to be exciting, a cracker of a tournament," said Pandya when asked about how big a responsibility it will be to be a lead finisher of the Indian team going into the T20 WC.
Notably, Pandya’s fitness is a concern heading into the event as he did not bowl in the IPL.