India v Sri Lanka, 3rd ODI, Jaipur October 31, 2005

Dhoni: Basic instinct

If anyone had doubts about Dhoni's ability with the bat - not merely as a mighty biffer of the ball but as a batsman fully worthy of a top-order slot - then they have been erased



Rahul Dravid compared Mahendra Singh Dhoni's innings to Sachin Tendulkar's epic 143 against Australia at Sharjah in 1998 © Getty Images

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was pleasantly surprised to be richer by rupees one million when Lalit Modi, the president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, announced the cash prize soon after the third one-dayer. The Sri Lankans were just plain shocked by the brutality and finality of Dhoni's crushing unbeaten 183. There are some days when you just cannot do anything to alter the course of a match. Today was one of them.

If anyone had doubts about Dhoni's ability with the bat - not merely as a mighty biffer of the ball but as a batsman fully worthy of a top-order slot - then they have been erased. In the course of his 145-ball decimation, Dhoni was caught once, but it was by a ball boy standing well behind the boundary ropes. Aside from that his innings was chanceless, in itself an achievement for someone who was at the crease for 45.2 overs.

To play such an innings when chasing requires not just talent, but temperament and nerves of steel. It's never easy chase a target of close to 300, scoring at a run-a-ball over 50 overs. The outfield may be quick, the pitch perfect for batting, and the boundaries short. But you still have to play one ball at a time, concentrating from the time the bowler gets to the top of his mark till the time bat makes contact with the ball. Doing that over after over, 145 times in all, battling cramp and heat, and allowing his natural instincts to do the rest was Dhoni's greatest victory.

Rahul Dravid let on that the decision to send Dhoni at No. 3 was made the day before the match, and he was not far off the mark when he said, "Words can't describe what a great innings it was. It was a privilege to watch an innings like that". Significantly, Dravid compared it to Sachin Tendulkar's 143 against Australia in Sharjah in 1998, one of the most stirring innings played by an Indian in one-dayers. "Anyone who watched it at the ground and on television will agree that it is one of the great one-day innings of all time," he said of Dhoni's knock. "Significantly, he kept wickets for 50 overs and batted for 46 overs."

In the end, the way Dhoni was hitting the ball - 120 runs came off boundaries - there was every chance he could have gone on to become the first batsman to score a double-hundred in limited overs cricket. But that was never on his mind. "The main thing was that I wanted to be there till the end," he said. "I wanted to be able to score the winning runs. It was when I reached 160 that I thought of Gilchrist's record of 172. We were a little wary of Muralitharan, he is the best bowler in their squad, and Rahul and I decided to take singles against him, see him off and attack the other bowlers." And how he attacked the rest.

Kumar Sangakkara, who himself played a fine hand, scoring 138, was ideally placed - both literally and figuratively - to get a grip on just how good Dhoni's knock was. "There's not much to say about it, or describe," he said. "You won't see an innings like that again in a long, long time. It was a little gem."

Dhoni's love of motorbikes - he rides a monster back home - and his love for milk, which he reportedly consumes by the litre, have been widely reported and discussed. But he doesn't seem to care much about what people write or say about him. And on the day, he didn't even seem to care who was bowling to him, or what the ball was doing. Like Virender Sehwag at his best, he followed a simple policy, "have bat, will hit." Dhoni is not the prettiest of players, and there is something decidedly rustic about some of his strokes. But this is not a beauty contest. It's a game of cricket, it's bat versus ball. When Dhoni is batting like this, you just have to sit back and enjoy it, for the ball has virtually no chance.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo