Indian cricket star Mahendra Singh Dhoni starts patrol duties in conflict-torn Jammu and Kashmir from Wednesday to discharge his responsibilities as an honorary colonel in the army, the military said.
Dhoni is sitting out India’s tour of the West Indies that begins this week and there has been speculation he might retire after struggling in this month’s World Cup that saw India knocked out in the semi-finals.
The wicketkeeper-batsman who enjoys cult status in cricket-mad India is part of the Territorial Army, a reservist force that draws on civilians who can do short stints to assist the military.
He will do a 15-day stint with the Victor Force engaged in counter insurgency operations against militants fighting Indian rule in the country’s only Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.
“He will be taking on the duties of patrolling, guard and post duty and would be staying with troops,” the army said in a statement, adding that its headquarters had approved a schedule which incorporated Dhoni’s requests.
Dhoni has trained as a paratrooper and jumped from aircraft, an army official said, adding, “This stint in Kashmir is part of his training.”
Making use of sports figures such as Dhoni, whose brand value is worth millions of dollars, helps the security forces raise their profile, particularly among young people who are their key pool of recruits.
More recently, he has played a role beyond hitting sixes and getting out batsmen though his glovework behind the stumps.
In March, at Dhoni’s behest, Indian cricketers wore army camouflage-style caps during a match to show solidarity with paramilitary police killed in a militant attack in Kashmir by a Pakistan-based group.
During India’s opening match with South Africa at the World Cup, Dhoni stirred controversy with gloves that sported the Territorial Army’s dagger insignia.
The International Cricket Council asked for the removal of the insignia, setting off a nationalistic furore in India.
Dhoni, who turned 38 this month, captained the side to the World Twenty20 title in 2007 and their second 50-over World Cup title in 2011 at home. Widely considered the best ‘finisher’ in contemporary cricket, he is a veteran of 350 one-dayers.