Bold and beautiful: Dhoni and Pant jazz up Vizag with modern classic

It was a night to savour for Capitals' adopted home which had waited almost five years to see both the wicketkeepers in IPL action

Deivarayan Muthu
Matheesha Pathirana had bowled a perfectly acceptable yorker on off stump at 142.3kph. Rishabh Pant, though, sat deep in the crease, opened up his hips and pumped it away to the left of long-on for six, with his immense bottom-hand power.
Pathirana's next ball was also a yorker. This time, he tried to tuck Pant up by hitting the blockhole on middle, but the batter sat deep in the crease once again, cleared his front leg, and whacked it to the right of long-on for four.
The reading on the speedgun was 150.4kph. Earlier in the evening, Pathirana had yorked both Mitchell Marsh and Tristan Stubbs with similar rapid deliveries, but Pant was unhurried and unruffled. The yorker is designed to make batters powerless, but Pant manufactured so much that he pinged the boundary.
Pathirana is a bit like the OG slinger Lasith Malinga. Even if you are expecting a yorker, or sight it out of the hand, it's fiendishly difficult to keep it out because of the low release point and the angled seam, which causes the ball to dip sharply on the batter. Pant defied all of that and took down Pathirana, a super-specialist at the death, with shots that scream power.
Mustafizur Rahman wasn't spared either. He had bowled a slower offcutter into the pitch and tried to hide it away from the swinging arc, but Pant shovelled him over deep square leg for six with just one hand.
That's the Rishabh Pant calling card. After being on 23 off 23 balls, he finished with 51 off 32 balls on a Visakhapatnam pitch that offered swing and seam movement to the fast bowlers throughout the game.
And this was a player who was learning to "walk properly again" not too long ago after a serious car accident. Many wondered if Pant would be able to lead a normal life, let alone return to action. But Pant always had self-belief - both on and off the field.
"Yes, that one-and-a-half years was a wait but at the same time you've got to keep doing what you can as a cricketer and keep learning from it," Pant said at the post-match presentation. "I think I always had self-belief that whatever happens in life, I need to be back on the ground. That was the thought process and I never thought about anything else."
Pant's blitz was central to Delhi Capitals piling up 191 for 5. But it wasn't the only special innings on the night. MS Dhoni also thrilled the crowd with a big-hitting display, emphasis on the big. His 37 off 16 balls was the innings that actually turned Visakhapatnam wild. On the eve of the game, hundreds of fans had turned up outside the gates of the ACA-VDCA stadium to catch a glimpse of Dhoni, but he didn't train on Saturday.
Returning to the scene of his first big innings, Thala, with his shoulder-length hair, brought the roof down. He walked out to bat for the first time this season, at No. 8, to ear-splitting cheers and chants of "Dhoni! Dhoni! Dhoni!". The only thing that was missing was a rousing Rajinikanth or a Vijay number to accompany his entry to the crease, which has become something of a ritual at Chepauk.
Dhoni swiped his first ball of the season - and his first since the IPL 2023 final - through square leg for four. But it was his six off Khaleel Ahmed in the next over that demonstrated his power. The left-arm seamer floated a slower ball that finished wider than a set of stumps outside off, but Dhoni somehow got close to it and launched it over extra-cover with his great bat speed and unfettered swing. Back in 2005, when Shahid Afridi bowled at roughly the same pace that Khaleel did, at the same venue, Dhoni had jumped out of his crease and crunched him over extra cover for six.
Dhoni was 24 at the time. He is now 42 and was functioning on just one leg in the last IPL. He came into this season after undergoing knee surgery and even after all these years, he continues to be explosive. All up he hit seven boundaries in 16 balls, including a one-handed six over midwicket off Anrich Nortje, one of the fastest bowlers going around right now, in the final over.
"It was beautiful, wasn't it? And even the one-handed one over midwicket. He has been playing incredibly well in the pre-season," Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming said at his post-match press conference. "He's coming back from quite a serious operation. He has been rehabbing well and his batting has been superb. And that performance gave a positive vibe towards the end of a tough day. So, to get to within 20 [runs] is important run-rate wise and the way he played was spectacular."
The end of the game was totally surreal. This was a home game for the Capitals and they were winning. They went into the final over with 40 runs to defend. They closed it out and were celebrating with handshakes but it felt like a jarring image because all around the rest of the ground, people wearing yellow shirts and wielding yellow flags, were screaming Dhoni's name. He had gone 4, 6, 0, 4, 0, 6. It was power at its purest. It was fandom at its loudest. It was weird at its wholesome-est. All of a sudden the result just didn't matter to the people. They'd been treated to something far more valuable.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo