By Sunday evening MS Dhoni’s aura seemed to have permanently diminished when he charged South African rookie fast bowler Kagiso Rabada, got a top-edge and was caught. India lost the game in Kanpur by five runs and discussions about how fast Dhoni’s game had regressed began in television studios and around water-coolers.
On Wednesday, Dhoni swung the popular sentiment in his favour with a 86-ball 92 when other batsmen struggled to make an impact. In the second half, his bowling changes worked and he led from the front as India leveled the ODI series 1-1.
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The last over of the India innings was a mini deja-vu moment.
Dhoni vs Rabada in a last-over situation. Last time they faced each other in Kanpur, it was the boy who won the contest and sent Dhoni’s critics on an overdrive. ‘Time to retire’, ‘he isn’t as potent as he was’, and such criticism filled the pages in print and digital. Here in Indore, it wasn’t the final over of the game but of India’s innings and Dhoni, who had dragged India out of a terrible mess, was 14-runs adrift of his hundred.
Until then, it was all Dhoni. The critics were made to fall silent, and those who were questioning his place in the spot had to watch silently as Dhoni revived India. He had walked in at 82 for 3, seen India slip to 124 for 6 and staring at a low total. The curator at the stadium, known for producing flat tracks, must have been wondering what was happening with the Indian team on his pitch. Until Dhoni did what he does.
Let’s rewind to that final over first. Rabada banged the first ball in and an attempted pull only saw the bat breaking at the point where the handle meets the rest of the wood. The new bat, brought in very quickly by Stuart Binny, didn’t bring much luck as Dhoni couldn’t put away the next four deliveries.
Most of them rolled out as mistimed heaves and he had refused to take a single and expose the No. 11 Mohit Sharma. The final delivery was again short but it had a touch of width on it. Rather, Dhoni created it, by shuffling a bit to the leg, and gave himself that bit of a room he desires. Down came the bat hard and flat, and the ball bounced off the adverstising hoards beyond the midwicket boundary. Dhoni remained unbeaten on 92, India had reached 247 for 9 and Rabada had given just six runs in the final over.
In the final analysis, Rabada did yet again get the better of the Indian captain and his performance in pressure-situations must have given a lot of heart to the South African fans, who have often seen their team choke in vital positions in the past.
However, Dhoni’s comeback has certainly come as a big boost for Indian side. His unbeaten 92 might have come batting first, and not while chasing which is causing all the trouble for the Indians in the recent times, but just look at the situation this knock had come. When he walked down to crease, India had lost their top-order Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli. And even before he could have settle down, Ajinkya Rahane missed his leg-stump line, bowled round the stumps by Imran Tahir. And so yet again, Dhoni had to bat out with the lower-order, a theme that he almost perfected in the past.
But these were different times. Admittedly, his big-hitting skills is on the wane, and one was also curious to see how he would handle the pressure of the recent criticism.
No one knows more about working the singles and twos than him. He has been a past master at it and that’s how he started this knock too. He added 41 runs with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and 56 with Harbhajan Singh for seventh and eighth wicket, and a further 22 with the last man Mohit, who remained unbeaten on zero. The 34-year-old’s shot selection was impeccable – Unless South African bowlers bowled bit full or offered some width, Dhoni didn’t try anything fancy, just ensuring he hung around till the end.
The Indian captain knew any score past 225 will give bowlers at least something to fight. The ground is small with a quick outfield and India couldn’t have afforded to put a low total. And he managed to do just that.
Before Dhoni took over, South African bowlers bossed around the Indore arena. There wasn’t any width or anything loose. The pacers repeatedly hit the deck hard and managed to tie up the Indian batsmen on what essentially was a good batting track.
The last-match centurion Rohit Sharma saw his off stump flying after Rabada manage to get one in sharply , and at pace, to hit the pad and richochet on to the stump. Dhawan gave a simple catch to JP Duminy at short cover off Mornie Morkel and than a blunder of a run out happened.
Rahane was lucky when Behardien dropped him at mid-off, lunging to his right, and the batsman got across for the first run. However, Kohli, who was running to the danger end, was very eager for the second run but Rahane was reluctant to leave his crease.
He put his hand up, but Kohli was charging across at some speed and the mix-up ensured both batsmen were at the non-striker’s end. Kohli expressed his displeasure with Rahane before storming off after making 12 runs. The Mumbai middle-order batsman went on to score 51 with some well-timed hits but he failed to connect with a sweep and lost his leg stump to the legspinner Tahir. Suresh Raina’s much-established troubles with the short ball continued and there wasn’t much surprise when he gloved a short ball down the leg-side to the keeper. Dale Steyn soon got Axar Patel lbw and South Africa looked for to an early wrap-up. Until, Dhoni decided to intervene in some style.