ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

India v Sri Lanka, final, World Cup 2011, Mumbai

Perfect timing by MS Dhoni

The India captain certainly can't be blamed for not having a sense of occasion or timing, and he stepped up on the biggest stage of all

Sidharth Monga at the Wankhede Stadium

April 3, 2011

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MS Dhoni slaps one through the off side, India v Sri Lanka, final, World Cup 2011, Mumbai, April 2, 2011
The back-foot punch was MS Dhoni's most favoured shot and helped keep the required rate in check © Associated Press
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MS Dhoni had just sent the Wankhede Stadium into delirium by upper-cutting Thisara Perera for a six over point. That made it 37 required off 41, with six wickets in hand and the World Cup in sight. He dabbed the next ball towards point, took a couple of steps and stopped, and then hared across, realising Yuvraj Singh had come too far down. The single was completed, everything seemed all right, but Dhoni smashed his pad with his bat. The thud was so loud it could be heard from near the sightscreen, despite all the noise from the stands, where the crowd was going crazy.

It is rare that Dhoni makes such shows of emotion. The one other notable time he did so was during an IPL game in Dharamsala, when he upper-cut his own helmeted face after he had just hit the winning six. He had felt under pressure then. The pressure he will have been under coming into this final is quite perceivable. Before Saturday he had managed just 150 runs in seven innings. He had also made a few unpopular calls as captain during the course of the tournament. And after a poor finish to their bowling effort in this match, and an ordinary start batting, India's World Cup dream was coming apart.

When Virat Kohli fell to a fabulous return catch by Tillakaratne Dilshan, the seemingly out-of-form captain promoted himself ahead of the eventual Man of the Tournament. It was a sensible move. As Dhoni himself said later, he wanted to split the cluster of left-hand batsmen in India's middle order, but he also thinks he reads Muttiah Muralitharan's doosra better than the others in that middle order.

Sense or no sense, it was a risky move. "It was a big decision," Dhoni said later. "I knew that if I promoted myself and didn't score runs I would be asked why I couldn't stay back." Even though Dhoni has become a much safer captain than he was at the start of his captaincy, he still has it in him to come up with inspired moves in big games.

Just making the move was not enough this time, though. He had to go out himself and make the move work. Dhoni certainly can't be blamed for not having a sense of occasion or timing. On the night of the big final, out came the calculating Dhoni, the perfect mix of caution and aggression, strong as an ox, fast as a hare, the same batsman who, not long ago, was quite deservingly the No. 1 in ODIs.

During that golden period which took him to the top of the rankings, Dhoni instinctively knew how he'd have to react in any situation. He could absorb pressure, he could accumulate, he could explode. The last year hasn't been that good, but a World Cup final is not a bad time at all for a reprise.

On the eve of the final, all Dhoni practised in the nets was hitting big sixes. He batted on the pitch adjacent to the one used for the match, and kept smashing bowlers towards Marine Drive. That was not what was required in the actual match, and Dhoni knew that. When he came in to bat, the required run rate was headed towards six, but it also needed to be maintained for 28.2 overs. It would require a lot of ones and twos, and the loose balls would need to be punished wholesomely.

No loose ball went unpunished once Dhoni was set. He did take his time getting set, and relied on Gambhir to maintain the momentum. He was itching to charge down to the part-time offspin of Dilshan, but didn't want to take the risk. In his head the rate was worked out. For the first 10 overs of his stay Dhoni didn't hit a single boundary. Then Muttiah Muralitharan pitched short, and in his own special way Dhoni managed to punch it powerfully enough to beat sweeper cover. That shot alone kept the rate in check, accounting for all of Dhoni's first four boundaries.

It takes more than just timing to beat the sweeper cover with shots along the ground in the middle overs. That seems like a safe route to go to, but it generally only provides singles or twos. Dhoni, though, gives those punches a solid whack; the power is generated as his massive legs rock back. In between, he and his India A partner from the start of their respective careers, Gambhir, ran well, ever alert to overthrows and misfields.

Once Gambhir tired, Dhoni took over the responsibility of scoring. In the time that Gambhir moved from 87 to 97, Dhoni went from 29 to 60. A perfect transition was taking place when Gambhir got out. Dhoni took some more responsibility then, waiting for the batting Powerplay, but not risking taking it earlier. He knows better by now. It began with India needing 30 off 30, and a good over from Lasith Malinga made it 27 from 24.

Now another Dhoni special surfaced: the drag-flick-like shot that he plays with a much-defined bottom hand and an extravagant flick of his wrists, keeping the ball along the ground but imparting immense power. Three bottom-handed blows, and the game was over. The stylist in Dhoni, though, remains. With five required, he almost pulled Yuvraj out of his crease to get on strike.

And then he put his pre-match practice to use, lofting Nuwan Kulasekara for the match-winning, hell-raising six. India's World Cup began on Dhoni's terms; how could the end be different?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by G on (April 6, 2011, 1:28 GMT)

Not to forget his work behind the stumps. It takes heck of an effort to achieve that amazing consistency and class when so many things are running in the mind... kamram will endorse that ;)

Posted by Rahul on (April 4, 2011, 16:07 GMT)

Yes clayton you can not compare the two knocks. Ponting played a blinder but rem they were batting first, dhoni came and played an innings in which they had to chase with three wickets down and out of form.... How i love it for the next four years all u haters will never digest the fact that india is the world champion... It just makes it more sweet......

Posted by Dummy4 on (April 4, 2011, 14:44 GMT)

I was waiting 4 this moment in my life!! I can die with happiness now!!may the ghosts of 2003 Wcup rest in peace!!A huge monkey is off the back now!!! as it is said that nothing succeeds like success I have some fascinating facts- -sri lanka lost both Wcup finals when they were outperformed by the wicketkeeper.Even in their T20 cup 2009 final,kamran demolished their bowling, -india won both ODI Wcups on saturday, -india started the campaign with a 4 and ended it with a 6, -india played their last and first match against the 2 teams with oustered then in 2007 Wcup, -Shane Warne emerged as "PAUL" of cricket, -sri lanka didn't beat any Wcup winning side in this Wcup, -mahela scored ton in a losing cause, -highest ever run chase in final, -274 was enough 4 srilanka 2 win..but they saw rajni & ghajini in crowd.. -home side jinx broken, -gambhir top scored under MS in both finals of 2007 t20 and this one, -srilanka drinking the tea in plate...coz india took away the cup.LOL

Posted by Subba on (April 4, 2011, 7:35 GMT)

He's a great competitor and captain. Always a step ahead of the situation. he has no equals as captain.

Posted by Rajamohan on (April 4, 2011, 6:47 GMT)

Contd- He is the role model for any youngsters of this age in his conflictingly ejaculating characteristics of calmness and ferocious boldness. We have heard of Krishna and his gopikas, we are now hearing of our bull man friday and his powerful impact on the nation. I have an unswerving crush on him and have no doubt that his manliness has captivated the entire nation in a frenzied crush.

Posted by Rajamohan on (April 4, 2011, 6:46 GMT)

Contd- As the hunter used its easier tools hoping to unleash its brahmastra in the end to suffocate its prey in the pinnacle of conflict, they were not terribly bothered by the calm bull. Then using the same simple technique the calm bull shifted its gears to whip boundaries in a display of power in its forearms. The hunter slowly started realising that the calm bull was whipping up not only safe boundaries at will but also the emotions of a frenzied nation which made the hunters feel hunted. Before their very eyes the hunters realised the calm and ferocious bull had stripped them off bare before it could use its brahmastra. As the emotions of the nation were waiting to explode, the bull unleashed the helicopter shot in a non rustic, divine and powerful fashion to make the nation erupt in ecstasy. Man, that is the culmination in any buildup of positive emotion that one would like to experience.Our macho bull delivered the brahmastra from its armour which the hunter was proposing to use

Posted by Rajamohan on (April 4, 2011, 6:35 GMT)

As the bull pounced on us in taking a return catch and knocking us away from the target, instead of the southpaw tiger, in walked the swaggering bull with its brutal calmness. The hunters who had equipped themselves with ringmasters to tackle the tiger were caught with a whip to fend off the bull. The bull's first steps were watched with circumspection as it was carrying the hopes of a whole nation in its shoulders and those macho shoulders had been found wanting in this tournament. The first steps showed that the bull was waiting for this big moment to display its manliness to the whole world. The calm demeanour always made this bull tough but the freedom of its initial movementsmade it also look hungry. The stage was pulsating for its partners but it was home to the bull which eased into the arena. The hunter was initially met by a calm bull which kept the target in range with its simple technique. (Continued in the next comment)

Posted by Kiran on (April 4, 2011, 6:08 GMT)

@ Sreerang - You are right ..Dhoni's luck is always at pic on important moments.. Just go back and think about that seminfinal agains PAK. All Indians had seen tendulkar palying for so many years...but how many of them had seen him getting 4 or 5 chances in a single inning..i had never. Many people thought that sachin scored runs ( 85 scored in the match) riding on his luck and helped india to reach good score, but believe me it was not sachin's luck , it was Dhoni's luck that sachin got furry of chances and stayed there to score those important runs...I hope most of the readers should agree on this fact..

Posted by Seenu on (April 4, 2011, 5:36 GMT)

The name is captain courageous as ravi shastri said he proved his critics and ur de man.......i don find words seeing skipper steppin on a big occassion......and for the cup that counts for millions of cricket mad nation.........thanx dhoni for making us all proud.........hats off boss

Posted by Ajay on (April 4, 2011, 2:18 GMT)

@clayton franks This time around India thumped Australia out of WC and snatched away the WC from ponting....

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