With his chin up,George Bailey swirled around the cover region,waiting for the ball to drop from the skies. By the time the Australian captain cupped his hands,his counterpart,MS Dhoni,had turned around for his second run. Dhoni didnt watch the catch being spilled,but the crowds sure did alert him to the fact.
At that point,with just 11 balls to go for the end of the stuttering Indian innings,Bailey would even have been forgiven for thinking that dropping a tired man one who had been batting since the 13th over of the innings and one who had cleared the ropes just twice in 109 balls could not be all that bad.
If ever Bailey had to get away with a drop,the timing of his spill at the PCA Stadium was as good as any. It was,after all,the penultimate over and his side had done exceedingly well to restrict the same line-up that had chased 360 from 43.3 overs in the previous game to 267/7 from 48. And Dhoni,with a strike rate of less than a run a ball for his 105 runs,didnt seem like the one to get India anywhere near 300 a score achieved by the team batting first in each of the previous two games.
Had it been any other cricketer that Bailey had let off in such circumstances,it might not have nearly cost him the game. But Bailey put Dhoni down. Inclusive of the two runs that the drop cost,Dhoni scored 35 more runs,with three more sixes and as many fours to lift Indias score to 303.
To put things in perspective,if those 35 runs were seen as an individual innings,it would have been the third highest score on Indias scorecard on Saturday. It didnt matter at the end of the game,though,as Ishant Sharma repaid the favour with a 30-run over and India lost by four wickets.
Dhonis unbeaten 139,his highest effort in one-dayers since his 183* against the Lankans eight years ago,didnt end in a winning cause. But it was still a masterclass from not just the best death-overs bat,but one of the best one-day cricketers of all time.
Dhoni hadnt yet strapped his pads on when India lost their third wicket in the 13th over. Suresh Raina,finding Mitchell Johnson far too hot to handle,edged a bouncer to first slip and was gone for 17. Seventy-six for three became 76/4 next ball,when Yuvraj Singh poked at a short one outside off and the nick was lapped up by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin. Had the over not ended then,the man strapping on his gear would have had to face the hat-trick ball.
Each of the four men dismissed so far Shikhar Dhawan,Rohit Sharma,Raina and Yuvraj had all perished to the short stuff. So Dhoni wouldnt really have been surprised when he found himself ducking under a Johnson bouncer in the 15th over at the start of his innings. The next one was short too,and Dhoni blocked. And the one after that,short again,Dhoni sent screaming for a boundary to get off the mark. He wouldnt hit another until the batting powerplay,nearly half an entire innings later.
With Virat Kohli batting beautifully at the other end,Dhoni was more than happy to give the form man the strike. No one else,bar Ravichandran Ashwin later,seemed to follow that simple plan on Saturday. In Ashwins able company (the pair added 76 runs for the seventh wicket),Dhoni shifted up a gear. He didnt launch into a full-blown attack,however,and bid his time until the 41st over to hit the first six of the Indian innings a muscular slap over midwicket off Xavier Doherty.
Between then and the start of the 49th,Dhoni hit boundaries every other over,never in consecutive ones. Then Bailey dropped him,giving him the license to go after every other ball.