Sri Lanka v India, 4th ODI, Colombo August 27, 2008

Dhoni binds a winning ODI package

From the barrage of questions faced before this series to now, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his bunch of upstarts can sit back and smile

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was at the forefront of India's unexpected ODI series triumph in Sri Lanka © AFP

India don't like being favourites, and being written off by many even before their young ODI side assembled in Colombo ultimately worked just fine. Defeat in the final Test at the P Sara Stadium was so comprehensive that it was difficult to see where the one-day recruits would turn for solace as they landed for five matches against Ajantha Mendis and Co. Now, after beating the hosts by 46 runs, India have sealed their first series win in Sri Lanka. And central to their success has been their captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

From the day he landed in Colombo, Dhoni stressed the past should be left alone and the focus should be on the task facing his side. He admitted Ajantha Mendis would be a threat but said it was up to the individual to handle him. He stressed on the importance of the batsmen to back themselves to score briskly, despite the setbacks. India's recent record in the subcontinent included losses in the finals of the Kitply and Asia Cup, which Dhoni termed as "crucial games", and he hoped to rectify that trend. This match was a final in itself, and India held their nerve to win it.

He is a very important cog in this wheel, and for the second game running he was at the centre for India, overcoming health issues - he had a a fever yesterday and evidently hadn't recovered fully. Dhoni and Suresh Raina showed how it should be done, scoring runs at a good clip after Sri Lanka left India 81 for 3 in the 18th over. He led the way in proving Mendis could be thwarted, even as he struggled to remain on his feet towards the end of his innings. Overall, Dhoni has top scored in the series with 192 runs at a strike-rate of 79.33, won four tosses in a row, made the right selection choices, and been proactive in the field.

Under lights, with Sanath Jayasuriya in a punishing mood, Dhoni tossed the ball to Harbhajan Singh in the 18th over. With pace taken off the ball, Jayasuriya edged the third ball to a smartly-placed wide slip. After that Dhoni added an extra cover, who was sharp to deny runs. Attempting to work Yuvraj Singh off his pads, Chamara Kapugedera was trapped lbw. These are minor moves Dhoni makes, but they often have a resounding resonance. Dhoni opted for four specialist bowlers in the last two games and he was rewarded with wickets from Yuvraj. Dhoni also won four successive tosses: some call that luck; with Dhoni, it's all part of the package.

In his book, What Sport Tells Us About Life, Ed Smith writes of the 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle, who believed the bravery of heroes and leaders derived from their inspired and resourceful force. "The history of the world," Carlyle argued, "is but the biography of great men." Dhoni is no great, yet, but he has this amazing knack to inspire. And, since becoming captain and changing his approach to batting, he has played key roles with the bat. He averages 57.17 when in charge, with ten fifties and one century.

Many had criticised Dhoni's decision to skip the Test series, forgetting that he had to endure such a gruelling schedule this last 18 months (14 Tests, 56 ODIs, eight Twenty20 internationals, and the IPL). In the Test side Dhoni has yet to cement his place, as one century in 31 matches suggests; in fact, he was dispensable at the time he announced he was opting out. Dhoni is the most important member of a young one-day side and he realised that for the better.

Numerous television chat shows slammed Dhoni for the loss in the series opener and for reportedly influencing the selectors to pick young talent instead of ageing, vastly experienced heroes. Now Dhoni has led this group, with their struggles and pressures, to win a series few expected them to even contest.

The line-up India fielded resembled virtually that of the dismal Asia Cup final but, led by Dhoni and his sheer bullishness in believing Mendis could be overridden, they overcame the odds. Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones, seems to be Dhoni's mantra

Unlike in the second and third matches, where Zaheer and Dhoni were virtually one-man shows, this was a collective victory. "Contributive efforts are better because you are not relying on one individual," Dhoni said after the last game. "You will get individual performances brilliantly, but it's always better to win through a team effort. Everyone can enjoy it that way."

Consecutive fifties from Raina and Dhoni, Virat Kohli's maiden half-century to papered over the failures of Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj, Munaf's two-wicket burst, Zaheer Khan's accuracy, wickets for the spinners. This match had it all, and that will give Dhoni immense satisfaction.

Critics can argue that India were helped by a complete batting failure by the hosts, and off-key series for Chaminda Vaas and Muralitharan. Dhoni will tell you that his bowlers got the measure of the batsmen, and there is no denying how Dhoni and S Badrinath's approach towards the spinners in game two sparked a revival. Sri Lanka were poor in this series, very poor, but India were good.

This isn't in the same league as the ICC World Twenty20 or the CB Series, but it should be toasted. It came after Mendis - he who mauled India in the Asia Cup final - and Muttiah Muralitharan made a mockery of the best middle order in Test cricket. The line-up India fielded resembled virtually that of the dismal Asia Cup final but, led by Dhoni and his sheer bullishness in believing Mendis could be overridden, they overcame the odds. Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones, seems to be Dhoni's mantra.

Baseball, poets say, cannot be scripted. Neither can cricket. After the barrage of questions they faced before this series, Dhoni and his bunch of upstarts can sit back and smile. They've defied the odds and deserved to win, and Carlyle would certainly have toasted their success.

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roshan on August 29, 2008, 6:33 GMT

    MaxLuther and co. - please do read S. Rajesh's piece on this site on the extra importance of the toss on some venues. Even Tony Greig was forced to make the quite ridiculous sounding suggestion to have the choice of batting first or second shared by the two teams at a venue like the R. Premadasa stadium. Simple fact is at some venues, especially in D/N games the toss is absolutely crucial. No it was not that significant a factor in the Asia Cup final, and it wouldn't have mattered had India batted first. They would have struggled against Mendis who was very new to them on that day. Incidentally I saw a few laughable comments that Dhoni and co. had completely dominated Mendis. Well even with India batting first during the 3rd ODI and with Dhoni well set Mendis completely bamboozled him with one that pitched on middle turned and missed the off stump by a hair's breadth. Had India batted second in the 4th ODI they would have struggled to get past 140. So tricky was the pitch.

  • Ranjith on August 28, 2008, 13:24 GMT

    I dont understand why people should criticize Dhoni.He doesnt have the technique to play conventional cricket.Alright. So what he averages around 50 in ODI.When all the batsmen struggled to Mendis in the Asia Cup final, he was the only player who played without any struggle(with his own awkward technique). Almost half the game is won when you are positive and thinking big.To be honest, I have never admired his batting except for the commitment and attitude he shows in whatever he does.About captaincy: "Yuvraj will play all the games despite his poor show. He is our trump card" (after his flop in CB series)That's how he motivates,that confidence in his players will make them realise what they are really capable of.Do anyone need proof? Have you ever seen Gambhir playing so professionally over the years. Ask him,Raina,Uthappa,Rohit etc..

  • Tawakal on August 28, 2008, 11:25 GMT

    First of all congratulations to Dhoni 11 for winning first ever series in Sri Lanka. Yes Dhoni is the main inspiration for Indian cricket. I can assure you he can lead India to biggest win in 2011 world cup but he and his team need to be consistent, this is the problem all Asian teams have.The biggest exam for Dhoni is to defend the World T20 cup. India performance there will decide their future.Good luck Dhoni :)

  • vas on August 28, 2008, 10:47 GMT

    Nice to see Mendis the Menace turning into Mendis the Manageable. Cricket is always exciting when there is a contest between bat and ball and when there's hard-fought close finishes as the last 3 odis showed. As for the TOSS, did the curator assume that SL was going to be 4th time lucky and win the toss? He prepared the pitch which deteriorated so rapidly. I've never seen a test match pitch turn square on the 1st afternoon. He meant it for Murali and Mendis but in the end it was Bhajji and Yuvi enjoyed his generosity. Nothing more to say about Dhoni-others said it all. India is blessed with gem of a cricketer. Last of all, Good luck to Thuara a very exciting alrounder.

  • Marshall on August 28, 2008, 10:31 GMT

    First I would like to congratulate the Indians on their collective effort to win their first bilateral series in Srilanka. At the same time we have to consider the fact that this Sri Lankan team has been on the decline in ODI's ever since the world cup. Not long ago, they were beaten by England. Inspite of the fact that their batting didn't come good, Sri Lanka came close in all the matches. It is not that they were humiliated like the Indians were in the First match. The fact that Murali & Vaas didn't contribute much made the Indians task much easier. For those who want to eliminate the Fab4, please remember that it is Sachin's brilliance that won the VB series for India. MSD has started his captaincy carrer on the right note. The confidence he shows in the youngsters is commendable. Let us not make the usual mistake of judging their performance just by this series. Let us wait and watch them over the next 6 months and pass our Judgement.

    Congrats India.

  • Jesen on August 28, 2008, 10:09 GMT

    I am not happy with anishka's comments. Whether Dhoni can read Mendis or not his effort has been effective. Even the Fab 4 was not able to read him or get runs of him,which Dhoni was able to. It's important in odis to get runs, you can get them in any fashion you want. Hailing from Ranchi, I am a big fan of Dhoni. About the fab 4 I can say they aged . Now they should themselves step down and give the youngsters the chance but it should be gradual. Congratulations to Shoni and his team for making us proud.

  • Raja on August 28, 2008, 9:44 GMT

    Actually I am a bit surprised by this win and the amount of luck Dhoni has ... He has worked hard no doubt ... If at all this win is not gonna restart the rubbish talks of ageing seniors and retirement of fab4, I am very happy for Dhoni & Co... Gr8.. Give the respect what the seniors deserve. .. and give the support what these youngsters desire .. Don't compare them ...

  • Hari on August 28, 2008, 8:53 GMT

    I may not be a huge MSD fan but lets admit the fact that India outplayed Srilanka in the last three ODIs and that too in Srilanka. For people like Roshanf who thinks Srilanka were undone by the toss and a couple of umpiring decisions..please remember this series is in Srilanka where the Srilankan board prepares the wickets so if you cannot manage a consistent wicket then stop whining and accept that Srilanka played poorly and India played well. Honestly I think Srilanka are still too dependent on Sanath, Sanga and Mahela for runs and Murali and Vaasy to get them wickets and need to look for options as well.

  • anirban on August 28, 2008, 8:50 GMT

    India won this series because of an able leader who can lead from the front. Also we see here that the exhuberence of youth has done wonders for this Indian team.The selectors realise that there is a huge GAP between our oneday and test team and that its because of the youth that we won the series. Anil Kumble,should realise somethig that its time for him to go.Kumble dont gurantee himself a place in the playing XI if not the captain. Seriously guyz its time for him to hang up his boots and retire as he is a big time liablity to the Indian team and he should realise it. He himself should realise the distinctive difference between his test team and dhoni's one day team. He should step down and let Mahendra Singh Dhoni take charge of the team so that we can build the future of indian cricket in all the two formats

    Also Congratualtions to Dhoni and his boys. U guys did an awesome job and made us all proud.

  • Roshan on August 28, 2008, 7:02 GMT

    first and foremost congratulations team india u r right the indian team has been playing like a team under the captaincy of dhoni and i feel dhoni is spot on by encouraging in form players, he is usually criticised for dropping older players but the fact is he has only dropped the out of form players why else would sehwag and tendulkar still be there in the side most people will say that the toss won the tornament for india, but thats not indias fault, the fact is they have backed themselves and overcome their mendis fobia, if u look at the 4th odi sanath was brilliant but the rest was below par, mahela was in excellent form ,yet he wasn't even trying to assert himself on the bowlers, at that point had mahela and sanath attacked the bowling india would have struggled with their 5th bowling option so stop blaming the team and lets give them credit for their win

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