They call him a “Thalaivaa” in Chennai. The Tamil word means a boss and indeed MS Dhoni bossed around Australia on Sunday at his adopted home.
Since giving up the limited-overs captaincy, it has been a constant battle for Dhoni to keep his hopes alive for 2019 World Cup. It is like, he has to justify his place in the Indian team, each time he takes the field wearing that blue jersey.
Well, isn’t he doing it in style?
In Sri Lanka, he was exceptional with both bat and gloves. However, irrespective of that, we thought a series against Australia would have given him a much stiffer challenge, especially to the batsman version of Dhoni. And it happened in the very first match of the series. It was Dhoni’s solidarity along with Hardik Pandya’s flamboyance, which bailed India out from a disastrous situation of 87 for 5 while batting first.
It was a cloudy day in Chennai. In the first half of the Indian innings, on that slow Chepauk track, the Aussie bowlers had a wood over the Indians. With two new balls, the likes of Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile rattled the top order, followed by a fruitful first spell by medium pacer Marcus Stoinis, which saw half of the Indian batting line-up back in the hut within 22 overs.
When Dhoni came out to bat India were 4 down for 64, soon it became 87 for 5, raising Australia’s hopes of bowling out India within 200. It was a typical situation for Dhoni to inject some stability like he has been doing for the past one decade at the international level and once again he delivered according to the situation.
Critics say the man is well past his prime. However, during his 88-ball 79, there was no sign of any kind of fatigue. Right from ball one, when a misfield of David Warner at the backward point area allowed him to open his account, Dhoni was on the mark.
Australian got an early opportunity to run him out, but they failed to grab it and in the end, it turned out to be a costly miss.
Like his vintage knocks, here also Dhoni took time initially to measure the wicket and the bowling attack. Australians were trying too many variations against him. There were slow balls, bouncers and cutters. Also, Zampa managed to extract some sharp turn. There were plays and misses. But Dhoni was not even trying to hit his way out of trouble, like some of the top order batsmen did earlier. He was happy to play the second fiddle to Pandya during that match winning 118-run stand for the sixth wicket.
It took 67 balls for Dhoni to hit his first boundary and 75 balls to reach his 100th international half-century. But it couldn’t have come at a better time. He not only rescued his team but took them to a score of 281, which on that wicket was a secure total. Dhoni just rolled the years back he came down the track to hit James Faulkner for a six over cover, much to the delight of the entire Chepauk crowd. It was a moment of nostalgia for them.
Dhoni’s proactiveness at his den was evident during Australia’s innings as well. Behind the stumps, he was consistently guiding the young spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. He was literally directing them in which areas to bowl.
“Woh maarne wala dalna, andar ya baahar koi bhi (Bowl the one that he tries to hit, turning in or away, either is fine)”. Or the more specific “Woh ghoomana waalaaa (the one that turns)” were some of the samples that Dhoni kept dictating to the two young spinners after every ball.
Even when Glenn Maxwell was hitting them all over the park, Dhoni was seen telling Kuldeep, “Isko itna aage nahi (Not this full too).”
Later Chahal in the post-match press conference revealed that how he along with Dhoni and Virat Kohli planned Maxwell’s dismissal.
“Virat and MS told me to bowl the one that turns and keep checking his feet. My idea was to bowl a little wide to him, from there if he hits a good shot, then it is fine. My idea was to bowl outside off-stump and keep mixing it up.
“The plan was to get it to spin, but change our line. Our plus point was we kept bowling wide outside off-stump, so if he had to hit he would have to hit on the off-side because he is strong on the leg side.”
The strategy eventually paid off. Well, it had to as no one can read the Chepauk wicket better than the “Thalaivaa”.
Five years back, Dhoni played one of his best ODI innings of 113 against Pakistan here, but failed to end the match on a winning note. This time he was not in a mood to disappoint the long-deprived Chennai crowd again. So, both with bat and on the field, he made sure that at the end of the day, fans can go back home, rejoicing a memorable triumph.