The pressure of a tight run-chase can be an unnerving experience, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni makes it look like a cinch. His calmness in adversity is incredible. It is scarcely believable that an Indian captain – arguably the biggest high-pressure job in the game – maintains his cool in the most demanding situations.
The two consecutive knocks at Adelaide reiterated Dhoni’s reputation as one of the finest finishers in the one-day game. The game against Australia saw him start off slowly as he struggled to rotate the strike and find the middle of the bat. As the required rate climbed, it was Suresh Raina who tried to take the pressure off India even as Dhoni’s struggles continued.
However, “Captain Cool” saved his best for the most critical juncture. He cleared the ground in the last over to tilt the game inIndia’s favour. Considering the pressure of the situation coupled with his inability to get going, his heroics in the final over speaks volumes for his character and confidence. Despite the odds stacked against him, he backed himself to come good and delivered when it mattered.
The signature flourish at the finish absolved Dhoni of his earlier struggles. The game would have finished earlier had he picked up pace on time. The opposite result would have sparked an overabundance of criticism. Nevertheless, the fact that he ensured India crossed the line is enough to make one forget the events leading up to the final over. It was actually a very uncharacteristic innings by Dhoni as he usually likes to keep the scoreboard ticking by rotating the strike.
In contrast, Dhoni’s knock against Sri Lanka in the tied game was a much better effort. He walked in when India needed a partnership. Somebody needed to occupy the crease with Gautam Gambhir. They rotated the strike well and struck the occasional boundary to keep the required rate under control. The biggest error Dhoni committed was when he ran out the set Gambhir – a dismissal that brought Sri Lanka back into the game. Despite that setback, Dhoni continued to give India hope and it was largely due to his efforts that India managed to salvage a tie in a very close game.
Dhoni – India’s key in run-chases
Since he came on the scene as a fearless hitter, Dhoni has been the key to India’s successful run-chases in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Right from his career-best 183 not out to the defining 91 in the World Cup final, he has successfully guided many Indian endeavours. The fairytale run is clearly supported by the stats which strengthen Dhoni’s case as the best finisher in world cricket.
Dhoni’s stats in successful run-chases:
These are phenomenal numbers and they reflect his dominance in run chases. He has featured in 62 games where India have successfully chased down totals and has batted in 49 of them. Of those hits in the middle, he has remained unbeaten on a staggering 30 occasions. Leaving aside the knocks where he came to finish the last rites, there have been quite a few innings where he has played cameos which have soaked all the pressure and taken India home.
Apart from the number of not outs, the figure that stands out is his average. The astronomical number -104.89 highlights his consistency in effectively finishing games. In fact, for batsmen who have batted in 20 or more successful pursuits, Dhoni boasts of having the highest average- a feat that places him ahead of seasoned campaigners such as Michael Hussey and Michael Bevan.
Here are the said numbers:
*Qualification: 20 or more innings
The secret behind Dhoni’s fantastic record is his clarity of thought and fearlessness. In the one-day game he is a gambler; he loves to take his chances. And most of them pay off. The simplest example at hand would be his ploy to wait till the last over to finish the game against Australia. It requires self belief to script such success stories.
The responsibility of captaincy has helped Dhoni evolve into a better ODI batsman. The slam-bang player has been replaced by a sensible batsman who can shift gears according to the demands of the situation. He may not be the daredevil of old, but as long as he wins games for India, the method hardly matters.
Dhoni’s record in successful run-chases since he took up captaincy:
The gambler in Dhoni’s largely emerges from is undying self belief. He promoted himself up the batting order during the World Cup final despite his indifferent form going into the all important game. These qualities exude assurance in the middle and ease the nerves of the team and the crowd.
If Rahul Dravid was Mr. Dependable for India in Tests, then it can be said with a degree of conviction that Dhoni is worthy of that tag in ODIs.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)