India v Australia, 2nd Test, Mohali, 5th day October 21, 2008

There's something about Dhoni

Cricinfo staff
Twice this year, Dhoni has been told about half an hour before a Test that he will have to lead the side, and twice India have won comprehensively under him


Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a perfect match: he scored two aggressive half-centuries, and almost all his plans as captain worked © AFP
 

There's something about Mahendra Singh Dhoni. His detractors call it luck, but whatever it is, it has worked. Twice this year, he has been told about half an hour before a Test that he will have to lead the side, and twice India have won comprehensively under him. If in Mohali, as he admitted, he was lucky to win the toss; in Kanpur, India won despite batting last on a crumbling spinners' paradise. If at all, he has been lucky that his players have produced special performances: Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman conducted a workshop on batting on bad pitches in Kanpur, and Dhoni got special performances from nine of the players in Mohali.

His 100% win record is safe but Dhoni isn't shouting triumphantly from the rooftops just yet. "Playing [just] one Test and hitting a half century, you get an average of 50. So is the case if you hit a 100," Dhoni said, moments after securing India's biggest victory in terms of runs. "Your performance is counted over a longer duration of the game. I got my chance here but it was a team effort."

Dhoni, however, has the Midas touch and it was summed up best when he asked the debutant Amit Mishra to go round the stumps in the last over of the second day. Mishra bowled an accurate wrong'un to trap Michael Clarke in front and one was reminded of the ploy to give Joginder Sharma the final over of the World Twenty20 final. But Dhoni, to the amusement of all present, only said, "Fluke tha yaar [It was a fluke]."

What wasn't a fluke, though, was how Dhoni batted. He infused urgency into India's mindset with his aggressive approach and timely changes to the batting order. He had batted defensively in Bangalore and failed miserably, but in Mohali, he hooked his first ball for four - a statement that he wanted to make amends.

"It was a perfect scenario," Dhoni said. "We had got off to a good start on a good batting track and the ball was old. I think that suited my form of batting because that is my strength. In between, if there is a situation, I can go back [on the defensive] like the Lord's innings."

"But I should play the kind of cricket that I play more often, and that is aggressive cricket. In between I was not really playing my natural game, thinking more about the scenario and conditions. I need to play to my strength which is going out there looking to score runs. It is not only about hitting, it's about being fractionally more positive than others."

There was a beautiful moment after the completion of India's 320-run win. While everybody rushed to grab a stump as a souvenir, Ganguly merely walked up to congratulate his team-mates. Dhoni gave the man playing his last series, and also a centurion in this match, the stump he had taken for himself.

Dhoni later revealed that watching Ganguly was the most special part of this Test. "Sourav's getting to 7000 was very special. This is his last series and he is just going out and enjoying the game. He doesn't have any sort of pressure and that's how you want him to play. Sourav at his best, when he is playing his shots, is very different to others." And Ganguly, on his part, has played outstanding innings in both the Tests that Dhoni has captained.

Keeping calm on the field is quickly becoming Dhoni's signature, and he kept his cool off it as well, when a couple of potentially explosive questions were put to him. He was asked about his players' behaviour during the Test - Zaheer Khan was fined 80% of his match fee - and whether overtly aggressive sledging was the only way to beat Australia. "The only way to beat Australia is to play good consistent cricket," was Dhoni's response. "If it was verbal we would have had hired a few guys who are very good in that aspect." The reporters, if looking for a controversial quote, could only smile in resignation.

Dhoni was also asked to explain his appeal for a catch against Mitchell Johnson, one that he had taken on the bounce. Dhoni had appealed but straightaway asked the umpire to call the third umpire because he was not sure. Ricky Ponting was asked a similar question after the Sydney Test and he responded angrily asking the journalist whether he was questioning his integrity. Dhoni's response, however, was different. "I was not sure about the catch so I immediately got up and asked the umpire [gestures as if referring a decision to the third umpire], and Rudi [Koertzen] said that he [Johnson] never nicked it. So there was no point," Dhoni said.

"There are times when the ball bounces in front of you and you are not really sure. Your eyes are closed at times but when you feel hard [impact] on the gloves, you think it has carried to you. Since, in this series, it is not about players, it is ultimately the umpire's decision whether to refer to the third umpire or not."

His jokes apart, it was a perfect match for Dhoni. He won the toss and batted India to a dominant position in the first innings, almost all his bowling changes seemed to work, and, most importantly, he brought a ruthless touch to India's approach while setting a target.

However, like he did in Kanpur, Dhoni was wearing Anil Kumble's blazer when he went out for the toss. "Stand-in captain, stand-in blazer," Dhoni said. The way he is going they might need to stitch one for him soon.