MS Dhoni's 14-year ODI career is replete with smartly paced, blockbuster finishes. But that's not all he was about, certainly not at the start of his career. As he bids adieu, ESPNcricinfo picks seven - it has to be seven, doesn't it? - of his best ODI innings, tracing the evolution of a dasher into arguably the greatest finisher of all time.
Setting: It's the final of the 2011 World Cup, India are 114 for 3 and the asking rate is creeping towards six in a chase of 275. Enter
Yuvraj Singh, the player of the tournament Dhoni.
He had managed all of 150 runs in seven innings before the final, but he knocked on the window of the dressing room and told coach Gary Kirsten: "I want to go in next". The rationale behind the promotion was that he was better equipped than Yuvraj to handle Muttiah Muralitharan. Yuvraj was twitchy against quality spin even when at his best, and Dhoni had the benefit of having faced Muralitharan's variations, including the doosra, at the Chennai Super Kings nets in the IPL.
For a long time, Dhoni did not hit a single boundary, and it was Gautam Gambhir doing the heavy lifting. Then Muralitharan dragged one down outside off, and Dhoni laced it to the cover boundary. He collected a run-a-ball 22 off Muralitharan and later brought the roof down at the Wankhede when he scythed Thisara Perera over backward point. The asking rate and Sri Lanka's attack was now at Dhoni's mercy. He sealed it in the most emphatic fashion, launching Nuwan Kulasekara into the stands beyond long-on. Boom! India had won the World Cup after 28 years and set the gold standard for limited-overs cricket in the years to follow.
Setting: Let's go back to 2005, when the legend of Dhoni started to take shape. In only his fifth ODI innings, Dhoni, shoulder-length red-tinted hair and all, was bumped up to No. 3 by captain Sourav Ganguly after Sachin Tendulkar was run out for 2.
After walking out with a swagger and punching gloves with Virender Sehwag, Dhoni disdainfully punched Pakistan's seamers over point like Sehwag used to. Abdul Razzaq was cracked over point, Mohammad Sami and Naved-ul-Hasan were sent through extra-cover off the front foot, and Shahid Afridi wasn't spared either as Dhoni surged down the track and launched him over extra-cover, copping a mouthful from the bowler.
Dhoni moved to his first ODI hundred off 88 balls, and then showed off his full range, unfurling scoops, sweeps and down-the-track leg-side mows to leave Pakistan wondering what had hit them.
Setting: Six months later, another ferocious assault from No. 3, this time in a chase of 299. Tendulkar gone early again. Dhoni strides out, rolling his shoulder and windmilling his arms.
He showed he could be more than a pinch-hitter and finished the steep chase with a fine cocktail of power and calculation, even drawing comparisons with Tendulkar's Desert Storm. His unbeaten 183 off 145 still remains the highest individual score by a wicketkeeper-batsman in ODI cricket.
The carnage began when he smote Chaminda Vaas over extra-cover for a brace of sixes, and then showed decisive footwork against Muralitharan, picking his doosra with ease. His first fifty came off 40 balls, the second off 45, and the third off a mere 38. All told, 120 of his 183 runs came via boundaries, including what would become a calling card: finishing the job with a six.
Setting: The five-match series is locked at 1-1. After being sent in, Pakistan post 288 on the back of Shoaib Malik's 108. When Dhoni joins Yuvraj in the middle, India still need a run-a-ball 99 against a formidable attack led by Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul.
And Dhoni alone muscled his way to 72 off 46 balls, the dasher had become the king, of finishing games. He latched on to anything that was remotely wide of off and unleashed punches like a boxer. When his body was targeted, he pulled away with precision. Slower deliveries were swatted away, including one over mid-off with one hand. From 18 off 20 balls, he zoomed to a 35-ball fifty and killed the chase, leaving the then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf in awe of his strokeplay as well as his hairstyle.
Setting: India's top four are all bowled by full, swinging deliveries. Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina don't last long either. On a scorching day in Chennai, India are feeling the heat - literally and otherwise.
Two of Chennai's favourite sons - Dhoni and R Ashwin - though absorbed it and saved the innings with a resolute 125-run stand - the highest ever for the seventh wicket for India. From 29 for 5, Dhoni dragged India to 227 for 6. He tiptoed along in the early exchanges and later ran hard in the middle overs in the Chepauk furnace.
He willed himself into running ten twos, one three, and 44 singles and, by the end of the innings, he could barely stand. However, he teed off in the slog overs. In the final over bowled by Junaid Khan, Dhoni rolled out an outrageous shot, scything a yorker between backward point and short third man for four. It was only fitting that he finished the Chennai tour de force with a double, but it wasn't enough for India to win the series opener.
Setting: After Clint McKay prises out Sehwag and Virat Kohli, Gambhir marshals the chase with a steely 90-something before Dhoni… sounds familiar?
There were eerie similarities between this chase and the 2011 World Cup final. India were 178 for 4 in the 35th over in pursuit of 270 when Dhoni stepped out. A jab here, a dink there, and he put on 61 for the fifth wicket with Raina off 72 balls. Later, India needed 13 off the last over. Gambhir later reckoned India shouldn't have taken it to the last over, but this was how Dhoni dealt with chases. It came down to 12 off four balls. Dhoni v McKay. The bowler missed his length, and Dhoni sent it towards the Adelaide hill for a 112-metre six. Sure, it was a half-volley, but the almighty bat-swing was memorable enough to swoop into this list. The fourth ball was a beamer that was caught at deep square-leg, but Dhoni secured a double and then polished off the chase with two balls to spare.
Setting: Shaminda Eranga tears up the top order and then Rangana Herath whips up some magic on a pitch where one ball bounces and the other skitters through at shin height. The tri-series final is on the line.
In the latter half of his career, Dhoni traded brute power for risk-free accumulation and reduced the contest to him v the bowler in the last over. On a treacherous Port of Spain track, Dhoni watched Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Vinay Kumar all fall around him in a chase of 202, but blocked and bunted his way to the last over, bringing the equation to 15 off six balls. It was down to Dhoni, No. 11 for company, v Eranga. He had a big swish at the first ball… and missed. The second was full and wide, and it was biffed into the roof over Eranga's head. From thereon there was only one result possible, and Dhoni finished it off with a six.