India v Sri Lanka, tri-series final, Port-of-Spain July 12, 2013

Dhoni keeps his end-over promise

His greatest contribution may be turning fans inured to close defeats and panicky collapses into a set that refuses to believe a game is lost as long as he stays in

This was not cricket; this was poker. MS Dhoni was too calm, too cool, too sly. He bluffed and bluffed. He raised the stakes even as wickets fell. He rode his luck, survived a close run-out chance, escaped two perilous mix-ups with Ishant Sharma, and closed it out.

Dhoni wasn't even supposed to play this match. And it was clear that he was struggling with injury through his innings. He declined some easy singles and didn't take some twos he would have normally harried through. He was up against the run rate. He was up against a sharp Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews. And he was up against pressure. He overcame them all.

There is plenty to say about Sri Lanka's batting, India's bowling, and India's top order. There is a lot to write about Rohit Sharma's innings. And there is much to talk about Herath. But let them be for now.

Dhoni walked in at 139 for 4. He tapped and blocked. Occasionally he nudged. It took him 16 balls to get to 4. Meanwhile his partners came and left. Suresh Raina swished at an away-goer; Ravindra Jadeja played back to one that nipped back in; and R Ashwin was done in by the arm ball. Bhuvneshwar Kumar made nothing (though he did hang around for 15 crucial balls), and Vinay Kumar had a popcorn burst in his head when, on 5, he tried to slog a short ball out of the ground.

Twenty runs were needed off 22 balls. With Ishant, the last man, sauntering in. Dhoni played out two balls. Then took a single. And Ishant blocked out the final delivery.

The next three overs tell you the story of India's finest finisher. He waited. And he waited more.

This was classic Dhoni. He bides his time until the game reaches a boiling point, plays out the best bowlers, pushes the required rate higher and higher, and then backs himself to win the face-off. Javed Miandad did this often. As did Michael Bevan. Dhoni has turned it into an art form.

With 19 needed off 18, he faced Malinga. He patted the first ball down the pitch and defended the next one to the off side. The third was slightly wide but he smashed it to cover. He saw a chance to sneak a single but turned it down. The fourth ball was fuller, on off stump, and he wristed it to deep midwicket for two. A typical Dhoni hustle, manoeuvering the gaps with his tennis-ball technique.

The next ball was angled to third man. Again he turned down the single (even with only one ball left). The last ball was a bit wide. He tapped it to point and hollered, "No". Ishant, who was halfway down the pitch, was lucky to survive a run out.

Seventeen were needed off 12.

Ishant stayed on strike for the whole over from Mathews. He was nearly run out off the first ball. He picked off two runs off the fourth. And blocked out the next two.

Fifteen were required off the final over. And Dhoni asked for a change of bat. "A 2kg bat," as he later revealed.

There is a reason India adores Dhoni. For those who followed Indian cricket in the '80s and '90s, he may even come across as a messiah. Those were the days India choked and crumbled. They withered at the first hint of pressure. Their batsmen seemed to know exactly when and how to combust. All would be hunky dory until a slew of wickets wrecked their progress.

Dhoni bides his time until the game reaches a boiling point, plays out the best bowlers, pushes the required rate higher and higher, and then backs himself to win the face-off

Match after match, big tournament after big tournament, India pined for a batsman like Miandad. Or Saleem Malik. Or Bevan. Or Steve Waugh. Or any number of others who could stay ice-cool in a chase. They craved reassurance when the rate climbed. They yearned for some batsman to steer them calmly.

Dhoni's calm can be intimidating. It's as if he absorbs all the pressure as he works himself into a zone. Those watching can feel this. They understand that he gauges the pulse of the game, that he reads the opposition and the conditions. They are so used to his ways in ODIs that they trust him to take the right decisions at the right time.

Fifteen off the final over with a wicket in hand - that's what schoolboy dreams are made of, the kind of scenario that young kids imagine while they stare into a life-size mirror. The first ball of the final over was short and slightly wide. Dhoni tried an almighty hoick and missed. Many other batsmen would have cussed aloud. Or admonished themselves. Dhoni walked away towards square leg.

The second ball was full and wide. It stood no chance against his pendulum swing. A monstrous six. The third ball was on a length. He carved it behind point. Five needed off three. The fourth ball was also on a length. Another meaty swing. Another six. Match over. Tournament won. Let's all go home.

The Sri Lankans were stunned by the assault. Dhoni's team-mates looked shocked too. The commentators were delirious. And those at the ground went bananas. But when all these people sit back and quietly consider the final stages of the match, they will be overcome by a sense of inevitability.

Dhoni is no doubt a badass finisher. He is one of India's finest ODI batsmen. And he is their most decorated captain. But his true contribution goes far deeper. He has managed to turn a fan base inured to close defeats and panicky collapses into a set that refuses to believe that a game is lost as long as he stays in.

There was a time when Indian fans turned off the TV when Tendulkar got out (and Dhoni too has admitted to having done the same when he watched the 2003 World Cup final). But the thinking these days seems to have been turned on its head, almost to a point where fans tune into a game when their captain walks in.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer based in the USA

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • uncle bob on July 15, 2013, 15:18 GMT

    DHONI is like a cheetah. Who is lurking in the grass, stalking his prey, making is prey nervous, creating confusion in the minds of the prey, and at the end strikes a powerful blow. Game over. That's your dhoni.

  • uncle bob on July 15, 2013, 12:35 GMT

    Excellent article. Boycott was right when he said "India is Damn Lucky to have Dhoni". To me Dhoni is the greatest finisher cricket has seen in its entire history.

  • Al on July 14, 2013, 22:10 GMT

    Agree with @ Aarkay Chandru - Having chosen cricket as a career, isn't it wise for Ashwin to workout on his fitness? He needs to shed at least a 10 kg now or quit the game and choose a career in engineering. Again, on that day he hasn't bowled even 1/10th of how Herath bowled and yet, what stature he's bestowed upon!

    Maybe it's time to rest Ashwin and give a chance to Parvez Rasool. Rest will allow Ashwin to work on his fitness and fielding. It will also make him work harder to regain his spot. Rasool is a wicket taking all-rounder who bats at no 4 for his Ranji team.

  • Dummy4 on July 14, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    I think people are forgetting how SL came back in a great way in this match. This shows another shrewd and focused captain in the making for SL in Mathews. If only he had another bowler to support him. Also I feel Mathews should bat higher in the order and let seniors take numbers 6 and 7 in the future.

  • Rajesh on July 14, 2013, 16:05 GMT

    I wish MSD was a bit earlier in the Indian team when he could have taught the GOD of cricket a thing or two about mental strength. He is still the jumping jack as far as his technique goes.In this world only the end result matters- and this man has given us all in the 6 years that he has been at the helm. It wont be flattering to call MSD as the greatest finisher ever even before he has another 3-4 years min before he hangs up this boots.

  • Al on July 14, 2013, 15:03 GMT

    MSD is the greatest Indian ODI player ever!! He is basically 3 players rolled into one - a wicket keeper, a superb finisher, and an astute captain. We cherish his 40s and 50s more than any century made by so-called Gods of cricket. At the end, winning is what matters, not how many centuries a player has scored.

  • ranjith on July 14, 2013, 6:54 GMT

    i don't understand why people are comparing him with miandad or bevan as the best finisher of ODI ever. Dhoni has multiple roles physivcally and mentally.There are minimum three ways he may think execute.His mind is doing the multitasking as a captain , as a wicket keeper and as a player to finish the game.It's very difficult for a player to use his brain and body at the same time for two or three different purposes with little time in cricket field and to think like chess player rather than cricket from different angles. Over that as a Indian captain and player he has to handle the pressure and expectations of millions of fans, they are not satisfied less than winners trophy...where he takes all this pressure then ! We can see the change in his hair color at the young age of 32 years.

  • Syed on July 14, 2013, 6:38 GMT

    Great contribution by the skipper in the final despite having hamstring and truly had dhoni not played the SL would have won the final. He can be termed the match winner at times with his single performances. Credit must be given to Virat Kholi as well the way he led the side when India lost first two matches of tournament and on the verge of exclusion. Good turned around by the young Indian side since the start of the champion Trophy.

  • Anit on July 13, 2013, 20:39 GMT

    Dhoni is the best ODI finisher. I would rate him better than Bevan, Miadad and others. Dhoni has done this many times, including the WC final. However, the recent Indian tri-series final victory was full of risks. It could have misfired if Ishant had lost his wicket. This can happen no matter how much confidence one has on tail enders. India did lose ODI matches in Aussie in 2011 in similar situation. The better option is to pace innings well to not get into bravado situation.

  • Dummy4 on July 13, 2013, 18:38 GMT

    He is surely one of the great cricketer India has produced, he has won many tournament for India which iincludes

    1) T20 Word Cup 2) ODI World Cup 3) Won Test Series both at home and abroad

    Respect for player like him