MS Dhoni has not been finishing off matches of late. Against South Africa, in Kanpur last year, he came in to bat with 90 required off the last 10 overs. India needed 11 off the last over. Dhoni scored 31 off 30 in India's defeat. In Rajkot later in the series, he scored 47 off 61 and was part of a slowdown after the 30th over, which cost India the match. Dhoni himself fell in the 42nd over. In Canberra he fell third ball when India lost needed 72 at under a run a ball with eight wickets in hand.
In Sydney, Dhoni came in with the asking rate under seven, but his 34 off 42 played a big part in the asking rate reaching two a ball towards the end. Along the way, though, he shepherded a young Manish Pandey although he did enjoy some luck: he was dropped once and reprieved when plumb lbw. In trademark fashion, he took the game to the last over, and in trademark fashion, he biffed hit the first ball for six to ease the pressure.
With question marks all around him, Dhoni later spoke about how difficult finishing matches for India is. "When there's a big-hitting batsman there, if he gets out, you hear, 'What was the need of that shot?'," Dhoni said. "If that same shot goes for six, everyone applauds. How we bat in the lower middle order is, the main motto is to win the match. People say that even if you have a 51% success rate, it's very high.
"You have to give [the finishers] the benefit of doubt. And yes, it is my responsibility [to finish games], it's my job and I'll always take it. But at the same time, there will be times when I won't finish the job. The others have also come to play; it's not like there is a mark on my forehead because I'm batting lower down that says: 'Oh he's there, so we have won the match.' It doesn't happen like that. If someone bowls a good yorker, he bowls a good yorker. You can't hit it for six. Sometimes people complain that I haven't hit a helicopter shot - but if it's a bouncer, how will anyone hit a helicopter shot? You have to respond to things as they happen and accordingly change your batting."
Dhoni was asked if he needs to adapt the way he closes the innings with the way the game is developing. "Till we don't get a settled five, six and seven, I'll have to bat lower down the order," Dhoni said, which might mean he doesn't have any plans to retire from the ODIs. "For which I will have to slightly adapt. I find it a bit difficult to go in and play the big shot [immediately]. More often than not, I've batted after the 30th over. Got a chance to play like five to seven overs, and then go and then play the big shot. I've always found it slightly difficult. It's not an easy job. Nobody has found it easy to straightaway go and play the big shot.
"I [still] think that will be my responsibility, because I don't see any other youngster doing that job. I would love to bat up the order but I don't see it happening. I'll have to maybe do a bit more shift in my batting and adapt in a way where I can straightaway go in and try to play a big shot. But overall, you know, this series, the only opportunity where I could have scored 40-45 was the last game where we needed like 80 or something. That was a lost opportunity. Other than that, in the first three games, the way I batted, I couldn't have done much. If you're getting out in the 48th-49th over, you can't get any more runs than what you have. Or the second option is, you try to play not-out, which I don't think is the kind of cricket we want to play. We'll try to adapt. I think that's what my responsibility will be in the coming ODIs that I would be playing."
Dhoni also in a roundabout way said it was not always the fault of the lower middle order if a seemingly easy chase was botched up. In response to a question about whether Pandey surprised him with such a composed performance, Dhoni said: "A lot of times, whenever people score big runs and then they play a big shot and get out, nobody asks any questions. But I think the real question is, if you play a big shot and get out when you go in, whether that is something that needs to be criticised or people who are set and need to carry their innings forward.
"You have to form that balance of what is needed at that point according to the demands of the game. You can't say, 'This is how I bat.' The real talent is to adapt to the needs of the game, and that's how you develop as players. If you want to serve in international cricket for a long time, you have to adapt because every game is different. All conditions, pitches, bowlers are different."