The date was May 2 and the match was between Rising Pune Supergiant and Gujarat Lions. RPS were fresh off their resounding 61-run win against Royal Challengers Bangalore and had managed to restrict the Lions to 161. It wasn’t expected to be a cakewalk for them but the Supergiant were expected to see this one through without too much difficulty. (Results | Fixtures | Points Table)
It was hence a bit of a surprise when RPS found themselves four wickets down for just 42 runs in a matter of less than 6 overs. Ben Stokes and MS Dhoni were in the middle. Dhoni had scored a half century just a few matches before then but was experiencing patchy form otherwise. Stokes had at that point been unable to get a big score. But cometh the hour, cometh the men. The two got the crumbling RPS house back in order. While Dhoni departed, Stokes carried on, rallying the side to a five wicket win and scoring a century himself.
Stokes has done this a number of times since. When the Pune top order fails to score, Stokes held firm and anchored the exposed middle order. The quintessential T20 batsman, Stokes went after the bowlers, regardless of how many wickets Pune were left with or who was standing down the other end. He would block the one end of the wicket, allowing his partner to express himself. Stokes was the glue that helped the RPS middle order stay together.
His departure, hence, leaves a sizeable void in the batting line up. If anybody can fill in for Stokes in the middle order, it is MS Dhoni. The former Indian captain is regarded as one of the greatest finishers in the game. What has often been overlooked is that Dhoni would be the one to come to the crease and block one end of the wicket before going berzerk in the final overs. That is something that RPS will need if their top order fail to make an impact against the mighty Mumbai Indians.
This season, he may have not been able to be consistent with the bat but it is to be remembered that Dhoni has played a few crucial knocks. They may not have been big totals but they were what RPS needed at the time. The greatest players do act up in big match situation and, for Dhoni and RPS, no match is bigger than their upcoming playoff against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium.