“If he is successful, the next six months will redefine the way his epitaph will be scripted”
The net session that took place indoors at the SCG before the first ODI gave a clear indication of the troubles that MS Dhoni is facing for over a year now in the shortest format of the game. Mistiming the leg-spinners, miscuing the balls at leg-stump and missing most deliveries after intending to play them inside out not only showed the rustiness that had engulfed a cricketer who had not step foot on the field since November, but also very worryingly gave an indication of things to follow.
With the wicket-keeper’s flamboyance diminishing at an alarming rate (many would even go on to state that he is way past his glory days), cricket fanatics witnessed an un-Dhoni like Dhoni in 2018; someone who even struggled to put bat to ball on many occasions. As the mind races back to the thunderous six that the former skipper smashed out of the Wankhede on that historical night, it gets intolerable to witness an ageing white-bearded Dhoni struggling with his footwork and his strokes day in and day out.
But that is the very way of sports. It builds up a character; a hero – one who is pushed to the zenith of fame in his prime – only to snatch it all back when the ravages of time have made its impact. The retirement of Andy Murray after prolonged injury or the sluggish run of Novak Djokovic only corroborate the mayhem, and with Dhoni’s journey into the rut finding no escape, he stands as yet another star destined to end his playing days without a twilight flourish.
Also read: India need a change of mindset with MS Dhoni
However, things seemed to pan out rather differently two years ago, when Dhoni smashed his tenth ODI hundred against England days after relinquishing his captaincy. With pressure getting to him, it was deemed best if the Ranchi lad played as just a wicketkeeper-batsman – a move that showcased instant results. However, as the months rolled on and with Dhoni unable to add on to his international tons, ageing reflexes and poor hand-eye coordination seem to be the underlying issue, and not the inability to handle pressure.
In the last 20 matches, the player has scored a mere 275 runs at an average of 25. In 2018, he went without raising his bat even once – only the first time since 2004 that he has gone without a 50. More astonishing was the fact that in 385 balls that Mahi faced last year in 13 innings, he managed to hit only 19 fours and two sixes, which can also explain his paltry strike-rate of 78.94.
He’s batted at number 4, averaging 20.50. At 5, his average stood at 24.20. 33.33 at 6 and 13 at number 7. No amount of fiddling with spots, bats or gloves seemed to have helped and with the Indian team struggling to find a reliable number 4, 5, 6 and 7, his lack of form has only been magnified further.
With the cricketer unable to rotate the strike when the fielders are in the circle and with him struggling to play as a slasher in the death, maybe it is time the Indian camp change their perceptions about the player. Instead of viewing him as a finisher, the other players can be asked to take the lead and have Dhoni play around them. This tactic of having the right-hander as the team’s premier batsman had haunted them in the finals of the Asia Cup, when Dinesh Karthik had looked to support Dhoni, instead of the other way around. With the latter struggling with his timing, he was unable to break the self-imposed shackles and Karthik too did not take the incentive. The result was that India lost the plot and were in serious danger of conceding the Cup to Bangladesh after the middle overs had fetched hardly anything.
Yet, Dhoni is undroppable
Numbers are not in his favour, critics are not in his stride but as Rohit Sharma rightly pointed out at the press conference before the game, Dhoni is India’s guiding star. He will yell out instructions to fielders at the boundary. He will set their fields too. His opinion will be the last one heard when a DRS decision is in the fray. He will snatch the balls and effect stumpings even before you have finished a blink. He will encourage, chide, support, applaud and dish out valuable advice, which makes him indispensable and vital. Very vital.
It is very clear than Dhoni, who has made a reputation of not staying back in the team if he considers himself a burden, has been asked by Ravi Shastri and Co. to be the beacon for the inexperienced and younger stars. Knowing Dhoni, he is likely to put in all the effort to stand up to what is expected of him and hence it should not be surprising to see the maverick walk away immediately after India’s last game in the World Cup.
If he is successful, the next six months will redefine the way his epitaph will be scripted.