India v Bangladesh, World T20 2016, Group 2, Bangalore March 24, 2016

The Dhoni steal

Sharan MR
The Indian captain's sprint to seal victory against Bangladesh captured everything pivotal to his game

On the double: the hard-run two is central to MS Dhoni's limited-overs batting © AFP

Among the most beautiful sights on today's cricket field - one to rival Ashwin's lovely loop, or a Mahmudullah one-kneed cover drive - is the Dhoni steal. Picture this: he dabs a ball wide of the man at sweeper-cover and takes off. There really is only about one and one-fourths for the striker. You know it as soon as the ball leaves the bat; so does the bowler, the non-striker and, even, as it turns out, the hapless fielder, who swoops down on the ball and fires a return. But Dhoni doesn't. Strangely, nor does his body, because it just ran two.

The sight of Dhoni powering down a cricket pitch - pads on, helmet often cast disdainfully aside, bat swinging like a boatman's oars - gets one's adrenaline pumping like little else: one can feel his hamstring throb, the shocked wind in his wake. Part of Dhoni's allure is the contradictory nature of the whole thing. He doesn't have the typical runner's body - not for him are the wiry frame, the lean, long legs of an Usain Bolt. Instead, Dhoni is a cheeky, big man - never one, at first glance, to give the sense of being fleet-footed; yet, he thunders and gallops and steals. Watch him pirouette as he comes back for the second: it's the closest his batting will ever come to embody grace of any sort.

The stolen two extends beyond the aesthetics of the act: it is the centrepiece of Dhoni's limited-overs batting. It often allows him to score at better than a run a ball by taking almost no risk. The game is played on his terms, the bowler has got nothing on him - no edges, no just-misses, it's his game. This mindset serves him really well in the 50-over game; it sometimes lets him down in the T20 arena, though, where a little more risk may be called for. Indeed, arguably, in the game against Bangladesh, he could have done better: he came in with five overs to go and six wickets in hand. He ended up with 13 off 12 balls, not out. Dhoni's overall international T20 numbers aren't anywhere as great as his ODI feats: an average of 34 is good, a strike rate of 120 is a shade higher than Jacques Kallis (at 119).

The last-ball heist against Bangladesh captured, in a single, deliberate yet hare-footed sprint, everything pivotal to Dhoni's game. With a quickish Hardik Pandya bowling, the decision to stand without right glovel on is a brave one, emblematic at once of a calculating mind and some chutzpah.

The sprint itself is very Dhoni - I think it was Harsha Bhogle who said Dhoni had to be the fastest over 22 yards in modern cricket. Turns out he is even quicker over 15. And finally, the decision to run to the stumps where many others would have chosen to have a (riskier) shy - Dhoni ran because he wanted to be in control till the very end. In a sense, the sprint was a microcosm of Dhoni's world - don't let go until you absolutely have to. That's how he chases down totals. He controls the game, taking it almost deliberately down to the wire until it's just him and another man. And then, Dhoni backs himself to unleash his inner beast. It is risky, sometimes foolish, but supremely entertaining and completely his own.

Sharan MR is a PhD scholar at Harvard and the author of the novel, Blue (Harper Collins, 2015)

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • DKSinha on March 30, 2016, 23:28 GMT

    Article about Dhoni very accurate. I've been watching cricket for over 60 years never seen any player like him. The guy is smart, athletic and extremely talented. Considering he hails from Bihar,Jharkhand,Ranchi one can not stop wondering how many more gems India should have in its back alleys. There is a serious need to try to look for talent everywhere irrespective of the location.

  • Cricinfouser on March 27, 2016, 18:49 GMT

    I think it's time to re set India's batting order flop Dhawan should be replaced with Rahane n Raina would be switch to 5th place as Yuvi is better four no player then super flop Raina.

  • India on March 26, 2016, 13:58 GMT

    There have been many comments about Dhoni but my simple take on it is that MS Dhoni is the Man. Ofcourse a lot of people will not understand the true meaning of that word. It is not just about hitting fours and sixes or even winning matches - but it is about how you go about doing it - Australians also go about winning matches but people look at them a little better than feral dogs. It is about how you react under pressure - Again not just about how many runs you score under pressure but even how you react to it - Shahid Afridi hit a lot of sixes but has ZERO respect compared to Dhoni - Even under loss, Dhoni maintains his dignity, soaks in the pressure and comes back the next day for another fight. India is very very lucky that we have had gentlemen like Tendulkar, Dravid and Dhoni leading the team for the country. I do not care how many more trophies Dhoni wins, he already is a champion for me and I am grateful for his service to India.

  •   Santosh Meena on March 26, 2016, 13:18 GMT

    Obviously Dhoni had his minuses. But, if that particular game is taken, India made so many mistakes, I.e. Bumrah's misfielding (more psychological impact), his simple drop catch, ashwin and dhoni. But, the notable thing is that many times India has managed games under and such games lifts overall confidence. Two Similar victories against Pakistan in 2007 world cup has led to psychological blockade for pakistan. Remember south africa semi final loss(similar thing) to Australia in 1999world cup.....Australians have bn world champions and south africal have bn unable to cope up that mental blockade and now accepting non performance at world tournaments as their fate/chokers. Hope BD overcomes the blockade.If not then BD may not be able to win many matches in future against India. If Bangladesh had secured win then it wd have lifted whole BD cricket.

  • SUBRAMANIAN on March 26, 2016, 13:09 GMT

    Dhoni is master class and true leader.He always thinks in the interest of India victory and day by day he is improving .In IPL also due to him only Chennai Super Kings was so successful.He read the players in opposition and he demand from bowler to get wickets.Saurav Gangluy sparked spirit from players to win in overseas and Dhoni further improved in his own calm style

  • Krishen on March 26, 2016, 7:59 GMT

    @COOLCAPRICORN Cricket is a team sport. Captains can only marginally optimise team performance & aren't coaches either. MSD had the primary role in the tests as a wicket keeper which carries a huge work load. IND achieved 8-0 win (including 4-0 white wash) in 9 tests v strong AUS at home with MSD as captain. MSD has exceptional record as a captain at home that included many 100+ & even a 200+ as batsman. The aberration of losses in ENG/AUS had more to do with fitness problems of key players & batting failures than captaincy. During last 2 yrs IND missed opportunities of test series wins in SA/NZ/ENG/AUS due to batting/huge fielding errors, fitness issues than captaincy. His batting at Lords 2007 was instrumental in saving a test match & paved way for test series win in ENG after 21 yrs. There are many examples of under pressure innings in AUS/ENG/SA/NZ. MSD with his performances as player & captain has leapfrogged as best ever captain in all forms of cricket in history of the game.

  •   Waqas Pai on March 26, 2016, 7:50 GMT

    Some thought should also be spared for the bangladesh last pair. The non striker just didnt move until the ball reached dhoni ? You needed 2 runs of 1 ball and all you did was see the ball go to the keeper and then take off for the run and pausing a bit in the middle of the pitch too ? Some one need to coach bangladesh to handle pressure and make calculations on runs per balls required.

  • SHIVA on March 26, 2016, 6:28 GMT

    Great article!!!! Loved the way you described about the nuances of running between the wickets which is the core of batting

  • Unni on March 26, 2016, 6:18 GMT

    he's the best wicket keeper in the world by a country mile. His agility behind the stumps and sometimes even getting stumpings off fast bowlers (ex: Pathan) is simply outrageous. And he's the most athletic amongst the cricket players too..i mean set a running race and am sure he will easily beat the best of cricket players. Read in an article he drinks buffalo milk. Perhaps that's the secret of his athleticism and agility

  • Nish on March 26, 2016, 6:17 GMT

    I find it sad & unbelievable too there are even haters amongst supposed Indian fans too - who seem to find the flimiest reason to berate MSD like a dropped catch, a missed stumping, maybe our loss to SL in the last T20WC final! As an other comment stated, the guy is not a robot & so will make mistakes occasionally. But even these pale into total insignificance compared to the glories he has brought India in limited overs cricket & his amazing performances even today when he should be past his peak. Accept he was never that good Test a player & captain but unless you are blinkered, you got to admire the guy for how he still continues to perform & often 'pulls rabbits out a hat' in turning almost certain defeats to last minute victories! It can't all be down to luck but down to a mixture of his ability, calmness & cricketing instinct! So long may he continue & prosper in Indian colours!