April 5, 2005: The day Dhoni scored his first ODI century

The 23-year-old, playing in only his fifth ODI, had batted at No. 7 and scored three at Kochi, and his previous highest was just 12. The move clicked, and a star was born. Dhoni unleashed a series of power-packed shots. There was not much that Inzamam-ul-Haq could do to reduce the run flow, as Dhoni, obviously inspired by Sehwag, cracked a match-winning 148...

M. S. Dhoni in full cry during his century knock.   -  V. Ganesan

GANGULY’S GAMBLE GIVES BIRTH TO A STAR

WHAT really prompted Sourav Ganguly to promote Mahendra Singh Dhoni to No. 3, only the skipper can tell.

India was not chasing, and the pitch for the second one-dayer of the six-match Pepsi Cup series at the ACA-VDCA Stadium in Visakhapatnam on April 5 was a featherbed. The exit of Sachin Tendulkar in the fourth over with the team's score at 26 was an early set back, and when one had expected to see Ganguly walk to the middle, the burly frame of Dhoni emerged from the dressing room.

Ganguly was to later say that the move was planned. "We wanted quick runs and Dhoni is an aggressive sort of a player," said the skipper at the press conference. But No. 3 is the slot that the skipper favours, having scored 1356 runs in 30 innings (until the Vizag match), with three hundreds and nine fifties at an impressive average of 52.17. Barring his personal form, which is at an all-time low, there could have been no other reason for a change in the order. Clearly, promoting Dhoni was a gamble. The 23-year-old, playing in only his fifth ODI, had batted at No. 7 and scored three at Kochi, and his previous highest was just 12. The move clicked, and a star was born.

Ganguly was lucky with the toss again, and though the conditions here were not as demanding as Kochi, batting first helped. Sehwag, who scored a century in the first match, was on overdrive from the word 'go'. The manner in which the 'Marauder from Najafgarh' put the mediumpacers to sword in his 40-ball 74 must have certainly provided young Dhoni with confidence. The Jharkhand boy looked on in admiration as Sehwag forced pacer Mohammed Sami to be taken off the attack, smashed 12 runs off an Abdul Razzaq over, reached his 17th half-century with a pull to the fence off seamer Naved-ul-Hasan and despatched leg-spinner Shahid Afridi for 17 runs in an over.

Sehwag was in a murderous mood, before he fell, caught by Salman Butt at mid-wicket, driving Naved-ul-Hasan uppishly with the bat face turning. The two had put on 96 off 64 deliveries.

Dhoni, who had scored two centuries for India 'A' against Pakistan 'A' in an 'A' team one-day competition in Kenya last year, was always known to be a clean striker of the ball. He continued from where Sehwag had left off. It was carnage, simple and straight. However, it must be said that he had looked out of sorts at the start — Naved-ul-Hasan had him in a spot of bother — before unleashing a series of power-packed shots. There was not much that Inzamam-ul-Haq could do to reduce the run flow, as Dhoni, obviously inspired by Sehwag, cracked a match-winning 148. But there had been a drop in the scoring rate soon after the Sehwag-Dhoni stand had seen the hosts race to 122 for two by the 14th over. This was during the 5.4 overs that Ganguly was in the middle with Dhoni, as just 18 runs were added.

Ganguly, looking every bit unsure, took eight deliveries to get off the mark, scored a boundary off the 20th delivery that he faced, before being bowled by Sami {mdash} middle stick uprooted {mdash} when he played across to a delivery that was pitched full and straight. Then came the brighter phase; the fourth wicket stand of 149 from 134 deliveries between Dhoni and vice-captain Rahul Dravid, which put the contest out of Pakistan's reach. Dravid, who scored a century in the previous outing, was all control while notching up his 57th half century, as India finished at 356 for nine — the country's highest total against Pakistan and its third highest score of all time — and went 2-0 up in the series with a 58-run victory.

  • The remarkable aspect about the boy is that he possesses bountiful energy. After batting for two and a half hours, where he ran hard for his singles before an exhausted heave off Hafeez saw him hole out at deep midwicket, the Ranchi-born kept impressively for 45 overs.

The Jharkand lad, adjudged the Man of the Match, became only the second Indian wicketkeeper after Rahul Dravid — this makes him the first specialist gloveman — to notch up an ODI century. His is now the highest individual score by an Indian against Pakistan. Tendulkar and Ganguly jointly held the earlier record of 141. Dhoni is strong square of the wicket. He did not use his feet much to spinners, but when he did, he got to the pitch of the ball quickly and hit hard. Afridi, Arshad Khan and Mohammed Hafeez were stuck fiercely for sixes and fours. He had two reprieves, though, but he did not allow them to affect him. The remarkable aspect about the boy is that he possesses bountiful energy. After batting for two and a half hours, where he ran hard for his singles before an exhausted heave off Hafeez saw him hole out at deep midwicket, the Ranchi-born kept impressively for 45 overs.

Despite losing wickets at regular intervals, the Men in Green were up to the task till the 39th over, when Yousuf Youhana was dismissed. Ashish Nehra, who opened the bowling with L. Balaji, struck in his very first over, when he had Afridi playing across the line. But Abdul Razzaq, promoted to No. 3, took the score to 102 for two by the 15th over. Razzaq (88) and Inzamam put on 40 in 6.1 overs for the third wicket, with the stand looking every bit dangerous when the skipper fell to a mix-up. Tendulkar was introduced in the 16th over, and the Mumbaikar {mdash} match-winner with the ball at Kochi {mdash} operated from around the wicket almost immediately. He displayed tremendous control at a time when Pakistan was looking for runs.

It calls for accuracy from a leg-spinner to operate around the wicket and attack the leg-stump, especially in the one-day game where umpires are quick to call wide. Tendulkar bowled just three wides. Ganguly marshalled his resources well, making changes to the attack at the right time. Razzaq and Youhana (71) kept the momentum going with a 47-run stand off just 49 deliveries before left-arm spinner Yuvraj Singh broke the partnership when he had the former caught behind in his very first over. Youhana carried the assault in the company of Shoaib Malik and Hafeez before being seventh out when he top-edged a pull off Nehra. The challenge ended then and there.

The scores
  • India: V. Sehwag c Butt b Rana 74, S. Tendulkar (run out) 2, M. Dhoni c Malik b Hafeez 148, S. Ganguly b Sami 9, R. Dravid c Afridi b Rana 52, Yuvraj Singh lbw Arshad 15, M. Kaif lbw Rana 0, Harbhajan Singh b Arshad 11, L. Balaji (not out) 17, Zaheer Khan c Razzaq b Hafeez 17; Extras (lb-2, w-8, nb-1) 11. Total (for nine wkts, 50 overs) 356. Fall of wickets: 1-26, 2-122, 3-140, 4-289, 5-300, 6-301, 7-318, 8-325, 9-356. Pakistan bowling: Sami 9-0-65-1, Rana 10-0-54-3, Razzaq 10-0-55-0, Afridi 9-0-82-0, Arshad Khan 5-0-43-2, Hafeez 7-0-55-2.
  • Pakistan: S. Butt c Sehwag b Nehra 36, S. Afridi b Nehra 0, A. Razzaq c Dhoni b Yuvraj 88, Inzamam-ul-Haq (run out) 16, Y. Youhana c Kaif b Nehra 71, S. Malik c Sehwag b Yuvraj 12, Md. Hafeez c Balaji b Yuvraj 7, K. Akmal lbw Zaheer 41, Naved-ul-Hasan Rana c Dhoni b Nehra 2, Md. Sami c Yuvraj b Harbhajan 2, Arshad Khan (not out) 2; Extras (lb-6, w-15) 21. Total (all out, 44.1 overs) 298. Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-89, 3-129, 4-176, 5-204, 6-222, 7-263, 8-268, 9-296. India bowling: Balaji 6-0-33-0, Nehra 10-0-72-4, Zaheer 6.1-0-38-1, Tendulkar 7-0-44-0, Harbhajan 7-0-50-1, Yuvraj 8-0-55-3.

(The match report has been reproduced from the Sportstar magazine dated April 16, 2005)