India v Australia, 2nd ODI, Nagpur October 28, 2009

When Dhoni's worlds collide

Dhoni has adapted his game superbly to the needs of his team over the last couple of years, and it was again evident in a blazing century

The ball was full, but not quite a half-volley. The shot that followed was something of a topspin forehand hit on the half-volley, bouncing close to the baseline. The knees were not bent like a tennis player's but the bigger bat and massive twirl did the job, depositing the ball wide of long-on for one of the flatter sixes you're likely to see. MS Dhoni can still play those shots.

That he does not do as freely or as often as he used to is not lost on fans and colleagues alike. When Dhoni hits big shots in the nets, Virender Sehwag is usually quick to point out, in banter, "MS, yahan to bade-bade lag rahe hain, match mein kya ho jata hai? [Where do these big shots disappear in the matches?]"

It should also not be forgotten that Dhoni refrains from such audacious shots because he has explosive batsmen all around him, and his solid batting in the middle allows those flashers to play their flashier game. Nor should it be forgotten that Dhoni has managed to maintain a respectable strike-rate in one-day cricket while tempering his approach.

Since becoming captain, Dhoni has played 63 ODIs with a visibly more responsible approach. In that time he has hit 34 sixes compared to 71 in 84 prior ODIs, and 160 fours to an earlier 206. In fewer matches, though, he has scored more runs at a slightly lesser strike-rate and hugely improved average. In the last two years, Dhoni has become a complete and remarkably consistent one-day batsman. Still he can't keep everyone happy, as Dhoni readily reminded: "At some of the venues, people still expect me to hit those big sixes every time, so it is different."

Today was the best of both of Dhoni's worlds. When he came in at 97 for 3 in the 16th over India were threatening to have aimed too high, and thus losing too many wickets too early. The first ball he faced hit him on the back of his head. He had taken his eyes off the ball, and found it following him. "It went blank," said Dhoni. "That's what happens when you get hit on the head. "It was a good delivery. It's not like I was hit in the head for the first time. I am quite used to it. If you want to put together a package, you'll get at least 15 shots of my getting hit in the head. It's not the best way to start the innings."

He still had the presence of mind to steal a leg-bye. The first half of the innings was all about stealing and haring between the wickets; the robbing could wait. Ricky Ponting tried to make that stealing difficult, keeping mid-off and mid-on in for the best part of first 40 overs. The boundary riders stayed off the ropes, trying to cut the twos on a huge ground. At that point Dhoni didn't feel the need to clear mid-off or mid-on; he kept taking ones and twos despite a proactive approach from Ponting.

Suresh Raina, a younger man with a lesser workload and fresher legs, kept raising his bat and patting it in appreciation of every scrambled single, and every one turned into two. It is this sort of commitment, this attitude of doing it first before demanding it of others, that earns Dhoni his team-mates' respect.

Dhoni hit one boundary in the first 28 balls he faced and two more before he raised his half-century off 55 balls. That is the new Dhoni for you. "You play by instinct, but at the same time there is a cautious attempt to see what the demand actually is," he said. "If there is a youngster playing at No. 4, and he tries to play a big shot and gets out, its okay, people say he will learn and he will improve. But when it comes to a senior who has played around 100-odd international games, people rip him apart.

"At times that's in the back of your mind. Earlier when you went for a big shot, you backed yourself and went for it. It's not the same as I was three or four years ago, less responsibility and more flair. But now I have more responsibility every time I turn up on the field. A lot depends on what kind of pressure you are handling."

Still some yearn for the old Dhoni, especially when the situation asks for it, during a difficult chase or while setting targets. He has managed that, like he did in the West Indies earlier this year, having promoted himself to No. 3 and scoring a 34-ball 46. Amid his nudging and nurdling, which is not the most pleasant sight on a cricket field, such innings get forgotten. Even Kris Srikkanth, the chairman of selectors, couldn't hide his glee when announcing that the old Dhoni was back.

And back the old Dhoni was. Walking down and hitting Shane Watson, heaving and slapping Mitchell Johnson, hitting three bottom-handed sixes in two overs, he scored 54 runs in his last 27 balls, putting it past Australia, barring a freak innings or poor bowling. Even as the crowd went wild, it couldn't be escaped that this man had earned the right to go berserk after having built an innings, having worked hard through the most part of his piece.

India need both the Dhonis, but there are other batsmen who can compensate for the old Dhoni, and more often than not it's the new Dhoni that nobody else evokes. Dhoni, more than anybody else, knows that.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sudheer on November 1, 2009, 8:27 GMT

    no one can comment on dravid and ganguly as the generation in which they played bowlers were far more better than now so they cannot make up such healthy strike rate in ODI's that's understandable when they are players like sachin at the other end.i dont say dhoni is not good but he is one of the best ODI batsmen india have produced in the last few years.

  • sam on October 30, 2009, 16:44 GMT

    Listen all and sundry. Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly might have scored tons of runs for India in ODIs but look at their strike rates mate.. Rahul and Sourav have strike rates in the low 70s. Tht is not acceptable in the modern game..both were pretty bad when it came to placing the ball in 30 yard circle and taking singles.. Also pretty bad out fielders, both of them (one needs slip in ODIs for 5 overs probably if the wicket is flat). Let's face it. Yuvraj is way better than them. It's not how many you score it's the impact you make in the match when you actually score. I have seen Sourav and Rahul scoring hundreds and yet India loosing.. it's because of their strike rates.

  • Sikandar on October 30, 2009, 9:01 GMT

    Qazar: few more -- My point is simple, retire at the highest level and not hang on because "you earned the spot! OR it's still in me to get few more hundreds and accomplish more records" I am not sure how else I can explain other than this legend should step back and do the selfless act of retiring at the highest level so that young talent can get a decent and consistent chance to represent the country! It's time for him to think big and let team India start creating a world cup winning team [if that's what BCCI has been saying all along]. If Sachin can bring so much to the dressing room then Rahul and Sourav can do/did the same! NO doubt! Sachin is going to score some excellent runs and has the highest runs and all that... but is going to come with long spells of menial scores as well until the next world cup! Well, that's my take!

  • Sikandar on October 30, 2009, 8:53 GMT

    Qazar: Much respect to your stats. There you go, we are caught up in stats of Sachin! I have no qualms about his batting skills [hell, no can argue about that] but if you want to groom young talent then apply the same rule to everyone! No special treatment from BCCI ! Yeah! Look at Gilly, he is still going strong [even at the expense of wicket-keeping to the highest degree throughout his career] and retired NOT due to his dip in batting rather it was more due to the decline in his sharpness and skills of wicket-keeping. Gilly has done better and is doing better in ODIS and T20 and not Sachin! Sachin earned his spot in Tests and ODIs, No doubt about that! but is also taking rest often to prolong his career in ODI at the expense of "injuries". Guess what! If we bring Wasim Akram now I bet he will still wipe out opponents!

  • sachin on October 30, 2009, 7:16 GMT

    Cricket is a team game,Ricky Ponting Dint win the world cup for australia,it is a team effor.Likewise Tendulkar alone cannot win the world cup single handedly.He has scored more runs in worldcup,his average and the world cup records prove them.Sachin still has atleast two years of cricket left in him.Even the former cricketers feel so.I dont know why people keep asking him to retire.He is still consisten in both ODI's and Tests. Why should he retire when he is still playing good cricket and getting runs consistently? Dravid was dropped from ODI's because of his poor performance.Why does sachin has to retire just because of ganguly and dravid.Sachin is still playing well.

  • raghavendran on October 30, 2009, 6:59 GMT

    hi all.I think selectors had done wrong by retaining the same squad for the next 2 onedays.Where is our great batsman Rohit Sharma,Robin utappa, Irfan Pathan & yusuf pathan.If these 4 add with the current team it will be one of the indian team for sometime now.Rohit is a great talent. He played poorly in west indies.but he can learn quickly and do very well in the middle order and the same as robin utaapa. What about irfan and yusuf.Two great future all rounders of india.How selectors are able to leave these two great allrounders when team badly needs allrounders.Ok they also have failed.But they are youngster they can come back hard.At least for the last 3 onedays add these 4 players.

  • prasanna on October 30, 2009, 5:19 GMT

    well said Ribs, I saw dhoni having a attacking field (Short Mid wicket and Short Cover) when spinners were bowling, say if u r fielding first, u can't see it happening atleast when a new batsmanis in crease, wheras punter had an aggressive field even when the runrate was always above 6, of course it was a clinical performance by India, but sorry fans dont expect it to happen so often(U cant see it in a big event, i dont remember DHONI playing well in a big event)

    Harbhajan is like sachin in the team, they perform 3 out of 10 matches and will keep playing on reputation, I feel really sorry for guys like dravid and mishra who are proven commodities and still losing out.

  • Vishal on October 29, 2009, 23:53 GMT

    MS Dhoni has remodeled his approach to become one of the best finishers in One Day cricket and this innings should silence his critics for a long time to come. What's interesting to watch is the leadership group that has been created by Dhoni & Kirsten within the team and the on-field rapport that Dhoni shares with them, which was evidently missing when these players were out with injury. And given that Sachin has a role of mentoring all the youngsters, I believe this will be one of India's most formidable outfits to have ever played the game. The only challenge though will be to win a major tournament, which has eluded this team for a while. If Dhoni & Co. can keep their heads firmly on their shoulders, Team India should reach its zenith.

  • naveed on October 29, 2009, 23:25 GMT

    Dravid is arguably one of the most formidable No.3 batsmen. It is unfortunate that in recent times he has been out of form for a long period. Tendulkar should be dropped from ODIs as well if Dravid and Ganguly are no longer in ODI team based upon age concerns. What I do not understand is that why do we forget so easily that Dravid has played more winning innings than Tendulkar. I grew up watching Tendulkar but I hardly remember that he played a winning innings when it was expected of him. In IPL, Dravid clearly proved that he is a great player of T20 and as good as Tendulkar if not better. He adapts himself according to the format becuase he is one of the best players in the game. But I guess the selectors can not see that plain reality.

  • hrishi on October 29, 2009, 21:43 GMT

    Excellent display of batting by dhoni, hopefully in the next few games sehwag can make a big one, especially in the next game in DELHI. harbhajan is still bowling ok and tendulkar needs to step it now. Thank God that ishant is showing good form and when zaheer comes back in india, INDIA WILL surely take the #1 spot in all forms of the game.

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