Dhoni inspires India to series-levelling win

The Indian captain, under pressure, cracked an unbeaten 92 and then his bowlers responded with an improved effort that left South Africa failing to scale the target of 248.

Dhoni steadied the ship with an unbeaten 92 to guide India to a competitive total.   -  REUTERS

Playing the captain’s role to perfection, M. S. Dhoni orchestrated India’s 22–run win in the second ODI against South Africa at the Holkar Stadium here on Wednesday. It was early acclaim of the impending festive season as India levelled the five-match series 1-1 after the loss at Kanpur on Sunday.

Dhoni, the Man of the match, cracked an unbeaten 92 and then his bowlers responded with an improved effort that left South Africa failing to scale the target of 248. Faf du Plessis offered resistance in a line up that stumbled repeatedly by choosing aggression to discretion. A couple of smart catches by Virat Kohli too contributed to India’s comeback.

Poor shot selection cost Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers their wickets while David Miller succumbed to a gem from Mohit Sharma, the ball leaving him late and kissing the bat’s edge. The little chance South Africa had disappeared when Farhaan Behardien was ruled caught behind on the leg side by umpire Vineet Kulkarni with his team needing 48 off 64 balls.

The pick among India’s bowler was left-arm spinner Axar Patel, used astutely by Dhoni, but Bhuvneshwar Kumar was outstanding too with three crucial strikes that kept India in the game. The Indian camp would call it a collective effort but Dhoni was the towering figure in the home team’s triumph.

When he batted, it was not vintage Dhoni. It was a captain-batsman-wicketkeeper, an individual burdened with expectations, at times unrealistic, but close to his reputation of leading the way. He was the fulcrum of the India innings that never took off from the time Rohit Sharma fell to a casual flick.

Barring Ajinkya Rahane, no Indian batsmen showed the application that Dhoni brought to his work. He saw the top half collapse in a throwback to days when he would salvage the situation alone. But he lacks the agility that triggered those innovative shots. He attempted them unsuccessfully today.

Rahane played another sweet knock but left Kohli a bitter figure in the middle following a horrendous mix-up that saw both the batsmen at the same end. Kohli, run out 11 times in ODIs, failed to arrest his sprint despite Rahane vehemently raising his hand in a loud “No.”

The dismissal of Kohli was followed by Rahane’s. The Mumbai strokeplayer had impressed with his half century that saw him play the drive on either side in a most fluent fashion. After Rohit was beaten for pace and Shikhar Dhawan by change of pace, much was expected of Kohli and Rahane.

South Africa pressed through its slow bowlers on a pitch that did not produce the desired bounce. With the ball skidding, it worked well for leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who halted the ambitious Rahane, bowling him round the legs. Suresh Raina arrived and departed in a jiffy and the stage was set for Dhoni for he loves situations that leave him alone to take on the opposition. He was in his elements, farming the strike and hurting the bowlers, picking runs at will with some judiciously hit sixes. This was the Dhoni that rocked with the audience like good old times.

Dhoni lost a few more partners but not his purpose. Not that he was proving a point to anyone after two World Cup titles of the shorter formats to his credit. But he was fighting the demons that had haunted him for some time. Thanks to his committed knock, India could post a competitive score. And defend it too!