“Even if Dhoni is a hindrance with the bat, he still carries rich experience as a leader that was immensely missed in the Mohali game. But, Dhoni cannot be with the Indian team forever and now is the time the team learns to go beyond him”

Ashton Turner is on fire. Australia are slowly snatching the match away from the hosts.

Yuzvendra Chahal is with the ball and Turner is on the strike. A stumping chance and Rishabh Pant behind the wickets misses it. The Mohali crowd goes wild chanting the name of MS Dhoni!

The man, who was distinctly missed during the fourth ODI between India and Australia on Sunday, was left back in Ranchi. During the final few overs, Virat Kohli fielded at his usual position on the fence but this time around, it was different. There was no Dhoni behind the wickets, to keep an eye on the field placements, help the bowlers with a game plan and more importantly, maintain the “serenity” in the middle.

“When Mahi bhai is there, there is always serenity in the middle, clarity to our plans,” Kohli had said a few days ago in Australia.

Even though the former Indian skipper has not made any official statement yet, it is more or less known that the upcoming Cricket World Cup is going to be his last. Prior to the Ranchi ODI between India and Australia, the Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) had made all arrangements to make the day special for their favourite son as the game was going to be his final appearance in front of his home crowd.

Also read: MS Dhoni : The local boy returns home

A pavilion in his honour was made as well but Dhoni, being as selfless as always, refused to inaugurate it. “Dada apne hi ghar mein kya inaugurate karna,” Dhoni told the JSCA officials. [Who inaugurates anything in his own house?] On the eve of the Ranchi ODI, Dhoni hosted the entire Indian team for a dinner at his place. It was more like a silent gesture towards his extended family before he could take a step back from them.

The nation was not aware of his next plan, which like always was going to bother his loyal bunch of fans who have shown unconditional love and support for their ‘Captain Cool.’

Kohli won the toss in Ranchi and put the Aussies to bat first. The openers Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch stepped up just at the right time and took their side to 193 before the latter was dismissed. Then came in Glenn Maxwell, who made his intentions clear from the very beginning of his knock. He smashed the ball all over the park before he was beaten by the brilliance of the Ranchi legend. In the 42nd over, which was bowled by Kuldeep Yadav, Shaun Marsh slapped the ball on the backfoot straight to Ravindra Jadeja at the short cover.

A clever Jadeja changed the end and shot the ball to Dhoni, who as composed as ever, simply flapped the ball onto the stumps and that made Maxwell the new victim of Dhoni’s prowess behind the wickets. The crowd didn’t care to acknowledge the effort from Jadeja as they went berserk celebrating Dhoni’s finishing touch there. The Indian bowlers ensured they restricted the visitors to 313.

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During the chase, the Indians lost quick wickets and at 27 for 3, the hometown hero walked in the middle to join Kohli. The crowd was on their feet. This was probably the last time they were watching Dhoni play international cricket in Ranchi. Dhoni’s every touch was followed by a loud cheer and there was hardly any moment when the crowd was silent during Dhoni’s stay at the crease. There was just one way to silence the crowd and it was Aussie spinner Adam Zampa who found it.

Zampa bowled a way too full delivery to Dhoni, who made room for himself to drive it. However, an inside edge rolled back to hit the base of his leg-stump and that was the end of Dhoni in Ranchi, probably one last time. The former Indian skipper is known to sport a straight face, no matter what. But, this time, it was different. There was a clear expression of disappointment on his face and as he walked off the field, Dhoni even slightly hit his bat to the ground in frustration.

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India lost the match by 32 runs and the announcement that followed next explained Dhoni’s frustration on failing to finish the match. “Dhoni will be rested for the final two ODIs.” These words would have stilled an Indian cricket fan as it would slowly sink in that he might have watched the last of Dhoni on the Indian soil.

In 2019, Dhoni has played in total 14 matches across formats (ODI and T20I) and out of which, he was dismissed in a single digit only thrice. Dhoni kick-started his year with three consecutive fifties and clinched the Player of the Series award as India defeated Australia 2-1 in the ODI series Down Under. While he did not have the same impact with the bat in New Zealand, he still had a significant role in the Indian team owing to his keeping and leadership skills that aided Kohli during pressure situations.

Even after more than two years of giving up the limited-overs captaincy, Dhoni has had a huge influence as a leader in the Indian team. From the young players going to him for advice to captain Kohli himself seeking Dhoni’s advice in the middle of a game, Team India is yet to learn how to play without Dhoni.

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After gaining a 2-1 advantage in the ongoing ODI series at home, Dhoni-less India allowed Australia to fight back and square the series at 2-2. Now the hosts are forced to play the fifth and final match as a decider. Kohli made some terrible decisions on the field during Australia’s chase of 359. After Bhuvneshwar Kumar dismissed Finch in the first over and Jasprit Bumrah got rid of Shaun Marsh in the fourth over, the duo of Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb began to rebuild Aussies’ momentum in the game. They put up a 192-run stand before Bumrah finally broke it with the wicket of dangerous Khawaja, who looked well en route a second consecutive ODI ton.

However, instead of persisting with Bumrah, Kohli chose to stick with the spinners – Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal – who clearly were struggling without Dhoni’s guidance from behind the wickets. They together bowled 12 wicketless overs, giving away 72 runs before both bagged a wicket each. By the time Bumrah returned for his third spell, it was a tad late as Ashton Turner had begun to earn some serious form. Kohli went wrong with his field placements too at some crucial points. Whenever an attacking placement would be helped, he went defensive and allowed the Aussies to pull the command to their side.

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If Kohli missed Dhoni, the thinker, Pant too struggled to fill in Dhoni’s shoes behind the stumps. He miserably failed to read Kuldeep’s variations at most of the times, missed crucial stumpings and spilled some easy catches. It was good for him that he at least had a cameo with the bat as a point of defense in an otherwise poor show in the match.

Even if Dhoni is a hindrance with the bat, he still carries rich experience as a leader that was immensely missed in the Mohali game. But, Dhoni cannot be with the Indian team forever and now is the time the team learns to go beyond him. The final match is in Delhi, Kohli’s home city and a series win there could help him open a new chapter with the team with Dhoni not a part of it.

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