MS Dhoni came to bat at No. 4 in 3rd ODI vs New Zealand and smashed 80 off 91 balls
MS Dhoni came to bat at No. 4 in 3rd ODI vs New Zealand and smashed 80 off 91 balls PTI

In the 38th over, of New Zealand s innings, Tim Southee tried to play a pull off Umesh Yadav but the ball chopped onto the stumps. From 153 for 2, New Zealand were 199 for 8. I was handling CricketCountry s live blog for this match and thought, Well, another tame surrender from the Kiwis and I won t get to see MS Dhoni bat properly (as a small total looked on cards and India s top-order was expected to score the bulk of runs). However, it was not over yet. Surprisingly, New Zealand continued adding misery to India s awful record against tail-enders and piled up 285 before heading into the innings break. Full Cricket Scorecard, India vs New Zealand, 3rd ODI at Mohali

This was more than a respectable total for the once-languishing New Zealand side. The track had more runs but their lackluster middle-order restricted them to below 300. Nonetheless, tough chases like these brings out the best from India s poster boy, Virat Kohli and last night was no different. Mohali was in for a treat as Kohli bludgeoned New Zealand s quality attack after dropping him on 6. Kohli s 154 not out was another memorable innings from the 27-year-old in a stiff chase. The master of chases stood his ground to perfection but it was skipper Dhoni who stole the show silently with his effective 80 off 91 balls.

Dhoni, burdened with team s responsibilities at the age of 35, finally came at No. 4 when India were struggling at 41 for 2. Like many of us have been craving to see a typical Dhoni innings for long, Dhoni fulfilled the expectations to the fullest. He came out with a positive intent and aggressive mindset. This was an important match as the series was evenly poised at 1-1 and Dhoni was adamant not to concede a lead to the Kiwis. Dhoni played as if he was waiting to go out there with ample overs in hand and play freely. He did that and showed why he is insisting on coming out to bat at No. 4.

He has gone off, but to be written off at own risk:

In the post match presentation, Dhoni admitted that he likes coming up the order and clearly indicated that he will continue to do so. I am losing my ability to rotate the strike in the middle. 200 out of 281 matches, I have come lower the order. This pragmatic answer by a player of his caliber showed he was not shy of accepting that his finishing skills are on the wane but he wants to contribute as a batsman rather than being confined as a skipper, wicketkeeper and finisher. He has served as a finisher for long and now it is time for a successor to takeover while he can carry on playing like he did at his arrival to the international arena.

This ploy will certainly pay rich dividends not only for Dhoni but also serve India in the long run. Dhoni had no one to teach him how to finish games but imbibed the skills himself, owing to his power and belief. Even on occasional failures, he learned and made a name for himself which cannot be challenged in this universe. If he comes up the order, the likes of Manish Pandey or Kedar Jadhav fill benefit as they will be under the stern guidance of the master of finishes and can thus carry the torch forward.

The man has done enough to get promoted:

Dhoni is in the ninth year of captaincy. His team fulfilled what Sourav Ganguly s 2003 World Cup side could not by stamping authority on ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Though the core players remained from 2003 World Cup squad, Dhoni added more feathers to his elite career. He led a fairly young team at his disposal to glory in ICC Champions Trophy 2013 (CT2013). His happiness was evident with the way he jumped in joy after England handed the title to India, failing in last moments.

A couple of years later, India were on the road to defend their title in ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. The team was nowhere close to repeating its glorious feat in 2011 in the run-up to the mega event. But as it is said, Cometh the hour, Cometh the man , Dhoni picked all lying pieces and led his team to the semi-finals with dignity and respect. India lost only after reaching to a respectable stage of the tournament. The young side performed out of their skin but faltered in front of a better side. Had it not been for Dhoni s tactical brilliance, keeping things simple and backing his players, India would have fallen out much before.

Nurtured young talents and remained confined as second fiddle:

In all these ICC events, Dhoni shined as a skipper and rescued the sinking ship with the bat on few occasions. He played a blinder and one of the best captain s knock in cricketing history in 2011 World Cup final. Apart from that, his bat remained silent in the tournament. But did anyone notice that he hardly batted before the tournament decider? He got starts and was involved in vital partnerships against England, Pakistan, West Indies, Netherlands and Ireland. He failed against Australia but made up for it in the final when he promoted himself up the order. Dhoni could not tinker with the batting order by promoting himself on most occasions having Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir above him.

In CT 2013, Dhoni hardly came out to bat. He got a start against South Africa while he did not bat in the remaining matches before the final encounter. Having less exposure, he failed on the big night but succeeded in carrying a young team to the title. Such is the stature of this man that he was again ready to play the second fiddle and allowed a new-look side to express themselves on the 22-yard. By the end of the tournament, he made a player out of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja.

In WC 2015, the story remained the same. He opted to bat lower down the order despite knowing how effective he can be at a No. 3 or No. 4. He remained selfless as he did not want to disturb the game plan of ODI specialists, Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli. He could have batted before Suresh Raina as the left-hander had enough match experience but left it upon himself to finish games. There were two precarious situations which demanded a Dhoni special and he was up for it. In a tricky chase of 183 against West Indies, Dhoni was patient enough to stitch small partnerships with the lower-order and see India through. In the last group stage match against Zimbabwe, Dhoni came in at No. 6 with India reeling at 92 for 4, chasing 288.

Raina won the Man of the Match for his 110 not out, but had it not been a composed Dhoni at the other end, Raina would have thrown his wicket or got carried away. His pep talks in the middle and telling Raina to play grounded strokes enabled the left-hander to reach a personal milestone while Dhoni made a valiant unbeaten 85.

MSD – Over the years:

In his illustrious career, Dhoni kept wickets, led in all formats (he retired from Tests just months before 2015 World Cup) and remained confined as a finisher. The amount of grey hair on his head and beard is a fact to his numerous responsibilities. He earned the finisher tag during his younger days by making India win on several occasions. He exhibited his power hitting coupled with smart cricketing sense in tense run-chases. Irrespective of the situation, a young Dhoni would always come and have a blast at the opposition bowlers with the enormous strength at his disposal. His 183* against Sri Lanka in 2005, 148, 72 and 77 versus Pakistan were a testimony to his power, finesse in turning matches in India s favour. He was smart, ran hard, played according to the field and went about his business with a steady head.

Old-Dhoni faded under captaincy burdens:

When he became the captain, he played more maturely. More often than not, he took the game till the last over with immense belief on himself. No one can forget the way he made India victorious in Adelaide (44 not out) versus Australia and made Sri Lanka pay in the tri-series final in 2013 with a calculative and unbeaten 45. Dhoni batted with a purpose by rotating the strike, played to the ground and showcased his abilities in the death overs. It was something contrary to his earlier innings as he believed in holding his end for the sake of the team. He attacked in the last few overs to keep a check on opponents nerves and bailed India out of jail. His calm demeanour won us many games before his finishing skills went for a toss since 2014.

During India s one-off Twenty20 (T20I) against England in 2014, he failed to get 16 runs off the final over to end a thoroughly entertaining tour on a high. He neither gave strike, backing his own instincts and belief, nor could he finish the game thereby stunning a jam-packed crowd. Another such instance came during the first One-Day International (ODI) against South Africa in 2015 home series. Needing 11 off 6 balls, against Kagiso Rabada, one would have expected the finisher-Dhoni to do the job but he failed India by 5 runs.

Dhoni s finishing skills continued to ditch him in 2016 as he could not end games against Zimbabwe and West Indies, falling short by a whisker. This maybe out of age, him becoming predictable or bowlers becoming more skilled due to franchise cricket but the writing is on the wall and the man has accepted the sudden change as well. We need to bid farewell to Dhoni s finishing skills and welcome the old-Dhoni we are all familiar with. The man has done enough in past years for deserving a promotion and churning out few responsibilities. It is high time that he plays freely, attacks on more occasions and takes the game away with more overs in hand. This will not only expose a new finisher under Dhoni but the top-order will also benefit who can play for long knowing Dhoni can shift gears when needed. It will be riveting for spectators to see their favourite player play as he wants in the twilight of his career. He has earned it, let s give it to him!

(Aditya Sahay is a journalist with CricketCountry who is completely into sports and loves writing about cricket in general. He can be followed on Twitter at adisahay7)