India v England, 4th ODI, Bangalore November 23, 2008

Calm Dhoni commands strong force

Cricinfo staff
Nothing appears to fluster Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and that serene air is contagious. He doesn't indulge in any histrionics, but his players undoubtedly know who's in charge

Steering his side to yet another series: Mahendra Singh Dhoni © Getty Images

The final delivery summed up the series so far. Munaf Patel bowled with four slips, a gully and a point, and Stuart Broad's waft outside off stump missed the outside of the bat on its way to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It was obviously grandstanding from the team that had the game won, but as with almost every single Indian gimmick and gambit in this series, it worked. Munaf may not have got the edge, but India's fast bowlers had plenty of it on a chilly night when they proved that they're second to none at this moment in time.

Without taking anything away from Virender Sehwag's dazzling 57-ball 69, it is difficult to fathom just how the Man-of-the-Match adjudicator could have overlooked Zaheer Khan. Since coming back into the Indian team in South Africa two years ago, he has led the line with distinction, and Sunday's five-over cameo was as good as anything he's produced in that time. Figures of 2 for 20 from five overs would be outstanding in a normal one-day game. In a match of this nature, they were sensational.

In his last two overs, the first of which marked the start of England's two-over batting Powerplay, he gave away just nine runs, picking up the wickets of Owais Shah and Samit Patel. And as Sehwag said later at the press conference, his maturity shows in the way he handled the younger bowlers, in how he's constantly having a word in the ear of Munaf or Ishant Sharma.

Munaf's nagging outside-off stump line worked a treat yet again, and though he was expensive in comparison to the other two, it was Ishant that picked up the two biggest wickets. Kevin Pietersen was too late on an expansive drive, and Andrew Flintoff was suckered by the wonderful slower ball that had embarrassed Shane Watson and Cameron White at this very venue in October. That second wicket, so soon after Shah's exit, killed the contest.

Afterwards, contemplating the series loss, Pietersen admitted he still didn't know what his best XI was for the conditions. It reflected poorly on the team's leadership group, and went some distance towards explaining just why India have so comprehensively outclassed a side that hammered South Africa not so long ago. Chasing 198 from 22 overs was always going to be a huge challenge, but England did themselves no favours at all during the first six Powerplay overs.

Zaheer and Munaf bowled with pace, aggression and intelligence, but a 21-run return was dismal under any circumstances. The two-over batting Powerplay was no better. When England called for it, Shah and Flintoff had resurrected hopes with a stunning partnership of 79 from 43 balls. By the time the 12 balls were up, both men were back in the pavilion, and the scoreboard had moved only 14 runs.

Nothing appears to fluster Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and that serene air is contagious. He doesn't indulge in any histrionics, but his players undoubtedly know who's in charge. There may be the odd selection irritant, but for the moment, he walks on water

Right through the series, England have been naïve with the Powerplays, and that frailty has been compounded by the inability to settle on a batting line-up. Matt Prior, who opened in the first two games, came in at No. 9 on Sunday. Ravi Bopara, who came in at No. 8 in an earlier game, has opened in the last two. Flexibility is often a quality associated with successful sides, but there can be too much of a good thing.

India have also tweaked here and there, but the spine of the team has not been tampered with. Sehwag continues to blaze away like a value-for-money Diwali firecracker, while Zaheer and Munaf have allowed his counterparts almost no liberties. Yuvraj has come in and teed off with the insouciance of a man in prime form, and Harbhajan has invariably come up with a vital wicket or two. The confidence within the ranks was epitomised by Yusuf Pathan, who walked in to face the last ball of the innings and promptly mowed it over long-on for six.

Most of all though, this is a team in the captain's image. The turning point was perhaps the second final of the CB Series in March, when it was Australia who lost their nerve in a tense finish. Nothing appears to fluster Dhoni, and that serene air is contagious. He doesn't indulge in any histrionics, but his players undoubtedly know who's in charge. There may be the odd selection irritant, but for the moment, he walks on water. Pietersen, who enjoyed that feeling against South Africa, must fervently hope that the sinking sensation doesn't get any worse with five more weeks of the tour to go.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on November 24, 2008, 16:34 GMT

    Dhoni is an inspirational captain who leads by example. He is calm, cool & calculated person with a thorough knowledge of Cricket. He outfoxed Ponting by his brilliant 8-1 off side field to snatch a victory in face of a defeat. Now he outfoxed Pieterson with his knowledge of D/L to win 2 ODI's, much to chagrin of England. Some have captaincy thrust on them whilst others are born leaders like Dhoni. Only born leaders can extract the best out of their team. He is like Gandhi who sliced thru' the "British Raj" almost unnoticed like hot knife thru' butter.India is lucky to have Dhoni at the helm. If we had similar inspirational leaders controlling the world politics, we would not have the global economic crisis that we face today. On the other hand KP appeared not to understand the basic D/L rules in last 2 ODI's. His team lacked purpose & direction. Both bowling & batting were inconsistent and the team groped in darkness all the way to a 4-0 whitewash. England were hopelessly outplayed.

  • Raja on November 24, 2008, 15:06 GMT

    While you have referred to the second final of the CB series in down under and also about the selection irritant, it is difficult to fathom how the man of the match in that match P.Kumar is all but a forgotten man even by the Midas skipper. The Golden run by team india reminds one of the Golden run Dravid had in the initial phase of his role as skipper when he set a record of wins while chasing . Hope it never end for the sake of Indian Cricket.

  • Anuj on November 24, 2008, 11:25 GMT

    India not only dominated the match and series in every department of the game, they also showed a body language which is more like the Aussies in their heydays. They behaved as if only one team was playing.

    There was a carefree arrogance which was evident in the body language of all the Indian players. Take this for example; Shah hits a straight drive on Yuvraj's balling, Raina makes a diving save at long on and scoops the ball to Gambhir for the throw, who was no way near and England was gifted an extra boundary. Yuvraj's reaction; no glare, no strong words, he burst out laughing. When England was going strong with Flintoff and Shah hitting balls to boundary on regular basis, Sehwag rather being tensed, got engaged with teasing the crowd by whistling at them. When Gambhir fumbled, but still held onto Patel's catch at the mid on, Dhoni promptly offered him the wicket keeping gloves jocularly and everyone joined in.

    The attitude with which India played last evening was a rarity.

  • Anand on November 24, 2008, 7:40 GMT

    Well well India is certainly on cloud nine now and certainly look untouchable. This is such an exciting period in Indian cricket and it really feels superb as a fan. You really can't ask for more than this. India certainly is on the right path towards the long-term goal of World Cup 2011. The team is doing more than just win games, it is crushing the opposition ruthlessly; something new to Indian cricket! Three cheers to Mahi and boys! Go India Go!

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