Mahendra Singh Dhoni loses friend and batting guide despite giving best shot to save him
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Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have been holidaying in New York but the Indian skipper was keeping a close tab on the progress of his ailing childhood friend Santosh Lal and even ensured he was flown from Ranchi to Delhi for advanced care.
However, Lal, 32, did not make it. He succumbed to pancreatitis Wednesday even before doctors at Apollo Hospital in the capital could start treatment.
Friends close to the late Jharkhand all-rounder said no one had the heart to call Dhoni and inform him about Lal's death. It was only much later that the Indian captain was informed through a text message.
"Santosh returned from Tarapith, a religious shrine in West Bengal, only three days back and was immediately admitted at Guru Nanak hospital. That is when Mahi found out about his illness," said Sanjeev Kumar, a former U-19 Jharkhand teammate of Dhoni and Lal.
Lal was shifted to Apollo hospital in Ranchi on Dhoni's insistence but his situation continued to worsen. The Indian captain is then learned to have arranged for his long-time friend to be air-lifted to Delhi.
Although the ambulance took off the following morning, it didn't reach the capital until Tuesday as thunderstorms diverted it to Varanasi. The delay worsened Lal's condition and doctors had said it was too late to save him.
"Santosh was accompanied by Mahi's brother Narender, brother-in-law Gautam Gupta and a few friends. But he was in a bad state already and it was too late by the time they reached Delhi," added Kumar.
Dhoni had flown to the US from the Caribbean after he had helped India win the tri-series in Port-of-Spain. He had been in constant touch with his brother and Gupta until Lal's last few hours.
Lal is survived by his wife and daughter.
Dhoni and Lal go back a long way, starting their cricketing journeys together with Lal known to have had a significant influence on Dhoni during his early days. They also travelled together frequently across the state for local tournaments, forming a strong bond. Lal - Bunty to his friends - was also a frequent visitor at Dhoni's home, even after his superstar friend had become India's most sought-after sportsman.