Four to win from one ball, MS Dhoni on strike and you expect him to smack a six or four and end it in a way only he is capable of. On Saturday, he could just manage a single off the final ball and later called the final ball from Neville Madziva, “brilliant”. Undoubtedly, it was a very good ball from the Zimbabwean medium-pacer that saw his side go up 1-0 against the touring Indians in the ongoing Twenty20 (T20) series. The moment Dhoni missed the boundary, the Dhoni critics found their voices back.Full Cricket Scorecard : Zimbabwe vs India, 2nd T20 at Harare
Comments over how the golden touch has faded began to surface, but it was only a few weeks back while leading Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS), Dhoni smacked 23 runs from Akshar Patel’s final over to help his side to a win. In fact, he hit a six off the final ball when RPS needed as many.
Is Dhoni’s magic waning all of a sudden? No, it was coming. In fact, in T20Is, this was the fifth instance of Dhoni being unbeaten while India failed to complete a chase. Dhoni bats a lot at situations like these so such percentages are bound to be on a higher side. However, the approach is a concern.
Dhoni’s powerful hitting is no myth and when a player can almost clear grounds at will, the question is why take it to a position where the probability of going for the win decreases?
Rewind to ICC World Cup 2011 final, Dhoni at No. 5, played his natural game to help India to a comfortable win. He continued playing his strokes and never looked to take the game till the final overs. A few months later, during the CB Series in Australia, we saw Dhoni approaching chase in a different manner
Gambhir’s fine 92 put India to a commanding position. All Dhoni had to do was complete a formality. However, he chose to take the game until the last over and rely on a meaty six to seal the game. The loud chants of ‘Dhoni, the best finisher’ surfaced but why in the first place, leave it too late.
Even Gambhir did not seem too pleased with the approach and in the post-match press conference, he had then famously said, “We should have finished this game in the 48th over. We should not have taken the game to the 50th over, that is my personal observation. I know it is always easier to talk when you are in the dressing room, and it is always tough in the middle, but my personal observation is we should not have let this game go into the last over.”
Later in the same series, this time against Sri Lanka, Gambhir once again got India to a winning position before he ran himself out. Dhoni left it for too late. Nine required from Malinga’s last over, Dhoni got eight and it was a tie. The loss of valuable points hurt India badly later as they failed to qualify for the final. This was just the beginning of things to come.
In a T20I against New Zealand in 2012, against England in 2014 against South Africa in 2015 and several other IPL games, Dhoni often gave the impression of keeping things for late, and that hurt India. In 2015, against South Africa at Kanpur, Rohit Sharma’s 150 almost won it for India. When he departed India needed 34 from 23 balls and with Dhoni at the crease, it was expected to be a cakewalk. Dhoni’s 31-ball 30 did not help. Kagiso Rabada got the better of him and India went on to lose by five runs. The writing was on the wall that this tactic of keeping it for late needs revision.
Even at Sydney, earlier this year, Dhoni struggled at one end where Manish Pandey’s maiden ODI hundred sealed it for India.
Dhoni has often pulled it off successfully, like against Sri Lanka in the tri-series final in West Indies in 2013. When it comes off, it is like a scripting a fairy tale and when it does not, questions are raised.
The counter argument could be that Dhoni backs himself in such situations and he safeguards his wicket until a point where he feels he can unleash himself. India have a history of dramatic collapses, one such instance was the Canberra ODI against Australia earlier this year. With such tendency, Dhoni ensures that he does not lose his wicket, in turn triggering a collapse
Cricket is ever evolving and tactics need to be revised as per demands. Teams have deployed specialist death bowlers and the emergence of Sunil Narine, Mitchell Starc, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mustafizur Rahman is making last overs in limied-overs cricket exciting.
On Saturday, Dhoni walked out to bat in the 13th over when India needed 80 runs from 46 balls. While he is not going to hit boundaries off last ball every game but coming in at that stage, an unbeaten 19 from 17 balls is certainly questionable. Had it not been for Akshar’s cameo of 9-ball 18, India would not have come this close.
The last ball was “brilliant” but why keep it till that? Dhoni is still India’s best wicketkeeper-batsman and no Indian cricketer, not even Kapil Dev or Sachin Tendulkar, has been as impactful in limited-overs cricket as Dhoni.
Maybe, it is time for him to pat himself on his back, shed off the stubbornness and reassess his tactics. We love exciting cricket but when 40 runs is needed from five overs, we would prefer eight every over than 20 from four overs and then 20 off the last.