Mahendra Singh Dhoni: Not going gentle into the dark night

Dhoni has silenced his critics with his brilliant knock against the Aussies in the second ODI of the series at Adelaide. Dhoni scored 55 off 54 balls and remained not out to ensure that India achieved the target of 299 runs with 4 balls to spare.

Of late, many questions have been raised against the inclusion of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the Indian Cricket team for One Day Internationals. With Rishabh Pant knocking at the door, the poor form that Dhoni has been going through for a while has prompted many to assert that Pant deserves an opportunity ahead of World Cup next year.

For now, it appears, Dhoni has silenced his critics with his brilliant knock against the Aussies in the second ODI of the series at Adelaide. It was a must win game for Indians as they had lost the first match in the three-match series. Dhoni scored 55 off 54 balls and remained not out to ensure that India achieved the target of 299 runs with 4 balls to spare.

It was a typical Dhoni innings from the former Indian captain. He hit only 2 sixes and no fours during his knock. An interesting feature of Dhoni’s match-winning partnership with Dinesh Karthik was the amount of runs they scored through running between the wickets. Karthik, as well, hit only 2 fours in his knock of 25 off 14 balls. Since India required 34 off 24 deliveries, the batsmen at the crease hit only one six and one four and still managed to win the match with 4 balls to spare.

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Towards the end, Dhoni collapsed on the ground, evidently fatigued by the physical exertion at the middle. Some might question his physical fitness as a consequence of this but it would be incredibly harsh considering the fact that he had kept wickets for 50 overs before going out to bat where he ran an awful lot.

Over the years, Dhoni has earned himself the reputation of being a great finisher. It was never more evident than it was during today’s match. Many cricket fans would have been worried when Virat Kohli departed after scoring a brilliant century when India required 57 of 38 balls. It was indeed a tough ask but with Dhoni at the crease, it never at any point seemed difficult. There was a calmness in the manner in which he went about the job which has solidified the reputation he has earned over the years.

As goes the saying, “Form is temporary, Class is permanent.” And Dhoni showed great class with the manner in which he earned India the victory. He paced his innings in a terrific fashion. He began slowly when Kohli was around and hitting the ball beautifully as Kohli always does but by the time he finished, Dhoni had a strike rate slightly above hundred. That is class.

In the last over, when India required 7 in an over, there might have been a lot of people biting their nails. What does Dhoni do? He hits the first ball for a six, effectively ending the match right there.

There has been a tendency to treat Dhoni harshly, given the manner in which he unceremoniously removed Indian legends like Dravid and Ganguly from the team. In hindsight, it was perhaps the right decision albeit an extremely unpopular one given what India has achieved since then. His past actions have ensured that Dhoni is subject to far greater scrutiny during the twilight of his career than we would normally see and perhaps deservedly so. However, he has shown that he has still got what it takes to win India important matches under difficult circumstances.

When Kohli was caught out in the deep, India’s victory was far less than certain. If Dhoni had been dismissed as well, India could have very well lost the game since India’s lower middle order hasn’t performed too well off late. Under such circumstances, Dhoni’s innings assumes even greater significance. One shouldn’t take anything away from Karthik’s brilliant cameo as well. And one could argue, having Dhoni’s calming presence at the other end did contribute to the free-flowing manner in which Karthik batted when he came on.

There are a few beautiful lines by Dylan Thomas which appear very appropriate with regards to Dhoni’s current circumstances.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dhoni, certainly, doesn’t appear to be going gently into the dark night. From here on until the World Cup, every move of his will be scrutinized, every mistake of his will be criticized far more than it deserves, question marks will be raised every time he fails to live up to the expectations of cricket fans in India. Even when he scored a half-century in the first match, he received a lot of criticism for his low strike rate in the innings despite the fact that he had come to bat when India were reeling at three wickets down for four runs. But such is the expectation that Indian cricket fans have been led to have from one of Indian cricket’s greatest stars.

But Dhoni will be able to deal with such pressure. Because performing under pressure is one thing that Dhoni excels at. One should trust Dhoni to know when he should retire. He did quit test cricket when he realized that time has come. And it is to be expected that he has thought about his future and it appears that he has come to the conclusion that he can make a meaningful contribution to the team’s efforts in next year’s World Cup.

People should get off Dhoni’s back. And Dhoni’s remarkable match-winning innings in an important match under extreme pressure only shows that he has still got what it takes. He may be going through a rough path but scoring half-centuries in consecutive matches at Australia is no mean feat. A time may come when Pant or someone else may be a better option but for now, he is the best the Indian team has got.

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