In the last year or so, there has been a lot written about Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his diminishing power as a finisher. Doubts have also been raised on his ability to clear the fence on a consistent basis. While Dhoni of old used to attack whenever the opportunity presented, of late he has been playing the waiting game and at times, leaving it too late.
The most recent example is Chennai Super Kings’ game against Kings XI Punjab in the ongoing season of the Indian Premier League. Chasing 198, Dhoni came to bat in the seventh over with the asking rate already in the upward of 10. However, the former Indian captain chose to bide his time and limped to 32 off 26 at the end of the 16th over. Before Dhoni opted to shift gears, the required rate had shot up to 16 an over.
Dhoni managed to take the game to the last over but with 17 required from six, Mohit Sharma held his nerve to nail the wide yorkers. When the dust settled, the pacer still had four runs in his kitty after six legal deliveries. Dhoni remained unbeaten but defeated.
Last night (April 25), it was a similar situation against Royal Challengers Bangalore at M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Chasing 206, Dhoni made his appearance at the end of the ninth over with his side in a spot of bother at 74 for 4.
On this occasion, though, he rolled back the years. The second ball he faced – from Pawan Negi – was launched into the orbit over deep mid-wicket for a maximum. A couple of overs later, Corey Anderson pitched one up and was dispatched over long as Dhoni sped to 20 off just 11 deliveries.
With the pitch offering enough assistance to spinners, Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu decided to play Yuzvendra Chahal out. However, with 99 needed from 42 deliveries, Chennai were running out of time.
Dhoni was well aware. The next two deliveries from Negi were deposited over the long on fence, with the first one almost crashing into the press box glass. A 101-run stand with Rayudu for the fifth wicket took Chennai closer but the job was still not done. With 30 required from the last two overs, Mohammed Siraj brought it down to 27 from 8 balls. But in pursuit of a wide yorker, Siraj ended up bowling a low full toss which Dhoni sliced over point for his sixth six of the innings.
The young pacer felt the heat and ended up bowling his next three deliveries as wides. The last ball of the over was hit for a brace, leaving 16 from the final over. Dwayne Bravo took 11 from the first three deliveries from Anderson and with five needed from three, like so many times in the past, Dhoni found himself on strike. And like so many times in the past, he sealed the game with a six, his seventh of the night.
Stephen Fleming, Chennai’s head coach, later said that some of the new entrants in the Chennai squad were left astounded by Dhoni’s wizardry. “It was (a Dhoni special). It’s amazing when the players in this team experience this for the first time. And we have got some players up there who were absolutely gobsmacked at the way in which he finished this game.”
But one shot which left even Fleming in awe was that sliced six off Siraj. “Some of the shots he played tonight, the one over point towards the end, that’s one of the top three shots I have ever seen and I have seen a few, even in this game from de Villiers,” Fleming gushed. “In the context of the game, taking the target down to 21 was just ice cool. And his ability to let balls go for a wide… His presence of mind never ceases to amaze.”
Fleming agreed that the frequency of such innings have reduced over the last few years but felt this knock was among the best.
“Yes, we haven’t seen it that much (recently),” Fleming accepted. “The gaps between them have been bigger. But I think this IPL his batting has been excellent. And the innings today was one of the best ones I have seen.”
At the post-match presentation, Dhoni dissected the art of chasing: “What’s important is to know who the bowlers are left and will bowl the (remaining) overs. What options the captain has got, who is their best bowler on that particular wicket and who you can take on when it comes to the conditions, and the variations the bowler has got.
“It’s not only about me batting at the death. Sharing the experience with the youngsters or whoever is batting and helping them getting the score, because tomorrow I may not be batting with him or I may get out, but he needs to do the job.”
But last night, it was Dhoni who finished the job. Last night, he remained unbeaten and unconquered.