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Off-colour when in blue

Despite success with CSK,Dhoni has been off the boil as captain and batsman in T20s

Written by Aditya Iyer | Melbourne | Published: February 3, 2012 2:55:02 am

Lurching his body ahead,Mahendra Singh Dhoni met the splitting white leather with the toe of his bat. As the ball ran down to long on,Xavier Doherty punched his bowling fist in ecstasy on having won the match,and was soon covered in a pile of dark green and gold. But Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin continued to complete two utterly inconsequential runs. While the 44-yard sprint by the Indian captain only managed to reduce India’s defeat margin to 31 runs,the two got him to his highest score in international T20s.

An unbeaten 48 in a losing cause isn’t ever remembered. Not when five triple figure individual scores have already been posted in the newest format’s seven-year span. But it was Dhoni’s first score of above 30 in the format since December 2009; 26 months ago. He probably didn’t notice it himself at the Stadium Australia in Sydney on Wednesday,but it was his greatest contribution with the bat in this smack-a-minute version of the game. Yet,it couldn’t possibly have mattered less to him or his team-mates.

Club vs country

While the world,at least those still interested,looked at this two-match transitional period into the ODIs as one where Dhoni could drain the bad blood acquired in Australia with his tailor-made batting style and astute captaincy,the truth is that his legacy in Twenty20s still hinges on an achievement that occurred five years ago — the inaugural World T20 title in 2007. Ever since,the reputation of being the wiliest T20 captain in the world is a title gained and maintained in the bubble called the Indian Premier League.

It’s a reputation that probably will not be valued much by Australia captain George Bailey (despite also playing for the Chennai Super Kings) when the two sides meet at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday night for the last of the two-match T20 series. He will surely value his win as skipper of the national team more than anything else he has achieved in his cricketing life. Having gone 1-0 up in his first match as Australia captain,Bailey’s sole motive will now be to seamlessly carry on what Michael Clarke effected during the Test series — that of disallowing the visitors to get a win on the board on this tour.

Tipping point

The theory — one that the Indian think tank has come up with — is that the moment Dhoni & Co record their first victory on this tour,the habit of winning will eventually be cultivated. Quite like the way Dhoni’s IPL side functions. But unlike with CSK,where Dhoni has won two IPL trophies and worn the Champions League crown,his international record is way off the boil.

The moment the yellow is replaced with the India blue — as was put on display last night — Dhoni is still a far way away from mastering the format. With the Sydney loss,India have lost more matches (14) than they have won (13) in T20s under his captaincy. And unlike the popular belief following the eight consecutive away losses in England and Australia,Dhoni still remains a more successful Test captain than a T20 one,as a positive record of 17 wins to 16 defeats would suggest.

“We got off to a good start chasing 172. But it didn’t rain after that and the odd balls started to grip and bounce in the second innings,” Dhoni said on Wednesday. The rain was his reason for why the game didn’t go his way. But what remains baffling is why the captain decided to go in with two specialist and three part-time spinners when the drying towels were out hours before the two captains walked out for the toss.

“I think all the spinners did well,as even the part-timers contributed. Raina bowled two very good overs before he was expensive in the third one,” explained Dhoni. “Overall it went our way because in between we were able to pull the game back towards us.

“Not close enough,apparently. To be fair to Dhoni,the format has yet to be understood by even those in the know,at least in international cricket. While he has mastered manipulating a chase to perfection both as captain and a lower-order slogger,it is yet to become his trademark in the game’s shortest version. A top score of 48 in a losing cause probably explains that.

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