MS Dhoni nurdled. Not ones or twos but a cacophony of nurdles. Flays were nowhere to be seen. There was little flashing, let alone flashing hard. Tracer bullets were left in the dressing room. There were no helicopters.
Dhoni was calm, Dhoni knows only calm. Panic was for mortals, not Indian World Cup-winning captains. The nurdles, the nudges, the pokes, the prods. They were all building towards something big. Five overs of solid accumulation. No need for panic. Plenty of time left, plenty of Dhoni left.
There was one big swing coming, maybe this was it. Maybe it would start here, with an edge to third man and a quick-run two. No.
Two overs later, there was a smash down the ground. And then a flash, one that was quite hard. Two boundaries in the over. Here it was.
Then the batting Powerplay. Dhoni and Rahane. Both set. Both ready. Dhoni was giving himself room. Those brutish arms were ready. When he could reach the ball, he guided it to the fence. This would be it. Then eighth ball of the Powerplay, Rahane was out. Dhoni questioned the umpire about the decision while readjusting his gloves.
Dhoni faced a lot of balls after this. There were no big shots, there were dot balls, singles, and one two. The two was a drop. Dropping Dhoni in an ODI chase is like inviting India to defeat you. There is an asylum filled with former cricketers who have never gotten over this moment in their life. But when Clarke dropped Dhoni, he looked very serene. There was frustration, but not that much frustration. There were jokes about him dropping the World Cup, but few really believed it.
Soon after, Dhoni was using soft hands to guide one into the off side. He looked unsure if there was a run there. Jadeja told him there was.
Earlier in the match, Jadeja hit Finch on the pads. Jadeja thought it was plumb. The umpire thought different. Jadeja pleaded with his captain to review. Dhoni gestured that the ball hit outside the off stump. It was a typical Dhoni gesture - laid-back, calm, but very clear. Jadeja ignored it. He pleaded more. He had to have this review. And Dhoni, against his own judgement, reviewed it. It was hitting outside the line.
In the single, it was again Jadeja, the impetuous, the passionate, and the mistaken. Dhoni had let Jadeja make two big decisions in the match. The referral, as annoying as it was, meant very little. The call for the single meant everything .
Dhoni's next two deliveries went for six. Finally, with seemingly all hope gone from his support cast, he had been stung into action. It was 121 from 48 before his sixes. But that was cricket maths; Dhoni does Dhoni maths. The first six was a waddle and a whack over cover. The second was a dance and punch over mid-off.
He was here. The saviour. The hero. The man generations of Indians will tell their grandkids about. The man who promised and delivered victory. The man who thanked Sachin Tendulkar personally. The Dhoni.
But no, it wasn't. For the next eight balls there were only five runs. Dhoni was struck on the body. He picked out fielders. And even the believers, even those who had grown up only in the era of believing in Dhoni, couldn't believe anymore. It seemed, that even Dhoni didn't believe. He wasn't holding himself back. He wasn't calculating when to attack. He was defeated. Out on his feet, not the Dhoni, but just an ageing wicketkeeping batsman from Jharkhand.
Four years earlier, in the final, this same man had come in even earlier in the innings. He scored 91 from 78 balls. He helicoptered to victory. He looked invincible, untouchable, supreme, like he had been placed on the earth for only this purpose.
Now he was scratching around at barely a run a ball. He couldn't middle his pull shots. Even his biggest hits weren't reaching the fielders. He had no faith in his lower order. Seemingly little faith in himself.
Dhoni then clipped a Starc ball into the leg side. It went straight to Maxwell's right hand. Maxwell flung it at the stumps. Dhoni slowed down. There was no dive, no real run, not even a reach with his bat. He didn't make his ground.
It was like, mid-single he decided to retire. It was like mid-single, he decided there was no point just putting his bat over the line.
Dhoni had run out of nurdles. He flashed hard, in vain, rarely, and had only two tracer bullets left. There was no helicopter to glory. No helicopter to safety. No helicopters at all.