MS Dhoni has quite a history with last-ball finishes. In recent times, however, the scales haven't been in his favour. He was out of form. He wasn't producing the big hits on demand. And yet his popularity was unaffected. Nearly 14,000 people took part in a poll on ESPNcricinfo's match preview asking if Pune should persist with Dhoni at No. 4 and 63% of them said yes. This, despite his strike-rate of 87.14 being the lowest among all batsmen to have faced a minimum of 50 deliveries. Clearly, Dhoni goes beyond numbers.
In a high-pressure chase, Rising Pune needed the experience of a limited-overs stalwart, particularly after the dismissal of Rahul Tripathi, then the highest scorer of the innings, and Ben Stokes. An equation that was once a manageable 90 off 10 overs turned into a much stiffer 47 off three.
Dhoni was up against Mohammad Siraj, the uncapped seamer playing only his second IPL game. Here was a rookie bowler trying to outfox a legend. He couldn't. By clattering a six and four, Dhoni brought the equation down to 30 off two overs. It was still a tough ask because the excellent Bhuvneshwar Kumar was saved for the 19th. The highest wicket-taker of the season was yet to concede double-digits while bowling an over in the death. He was getting the ball to reverse too.
But at the other end stood Dhoni, a man who loves turning chases into one-on-one battles. And on Saturday, as he had on many other days, he emerged the winner.
The wow moment
By batting deep in the crease, Dhoni gave himself every inch of space possible to get under yorker-length deliveries, like the second ball of the penultimate over. It was full and slanted in late but Dhoni, using its pace and the angle, flick it between his legs and through to the boundary. He knew fine leg and square leg were up inside the circle. He knew he could turn yorkers into boundary balls.
Bhuvneshwar then tried to bluff Dhoni by taking the pace off and targeting the offside wide line, except, Dhoni outfoxed him by reaching out, getting his head over the ball and slashing it over point for four.
Pune needed 21 off 10 balls now and Bhuvneshwar went for his trusted yorker but it pitched a few inches short. Dhoni brought out the bottom hand and drilled it flat and hard over long-on. The stroke deflated both Bhuvneshwar and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Before Saturday, Dhoni had scored 61 off 73 balls in five innings this season and only once did his strike-rate nudge over run-a-ball. Today, Dhoni's first 23 balls had fetched 26. By smashing 35 off the next 11 deliveries, his season strike rate jumped from 87.14 to 117.30.
Bhuvneshwar has conceded 99 runs off 78 deliveries in the final five overs this season. Dhoni smashed 20% of those runs in one single over on Saturday.
What they said
"MS did what he's done for such long periods of time. When he's under pressure, he comes through more often than not. Tonight, he was magnificent at the back end."
Rising Pune captain Steven Smith effusive in his praise for Dhoni
"Frankly in modern-day cricket, there's no run-rate which is too high. It depends on the execution of the bowlers. What matters is if you can put pressure on the opposition bowlers and then it boils down to who handles pressure well."
MS Dhoni , on his approach in pressure chases