M.S Dhoni came into this Indian Premier League season with question marks over his match-winning ability with the bat after struggling in the T20 format in the last year. There were widespread suggestions of age catching up with him too.
Playing for Rising Pune Supergiant last season, Dhoni made just 290 runs in 16 innings with a strike rate of 116. He managed to help his team win only one match — against Sunrisers Hyderabad with an unbeaten 34-ball 61.
Batting predominantly in the middle order for the national side, Dhoni has scored 235 runs in his last 12 innings, with three 30-plus scores along the way.
Read: Difficult to plan and bowl to Dhoni
Dhoni's tendency to start slowly and waning big-hitting abilities in T20s came into focus during India's 40-run loss to New Zealand in Rajkot in 2017. He walked in with India needing 130 runs from 65 balls and failed to get the scoreboard moving over the next eight overs, managing a run-a-ball 28, even as the required rate continued spiraling out of control. He picked up 21 runs in nine balls in the last two overs, but it was a little too late.
Dhoni, however, looks to have regained his rhythm in the ongoing IPL. The former India skipper has played a starring role for CSK in his team's six victories. His unbeaten 34-ball 70 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, to help CSK successfully chase down 206, has been his standout innings so far. With CSK needing 132 runs off 66 balls, almost akin to the NZ T20, Dhoni didn’t take long to get going and finished the match for his team. Having an in-form Ambati Rayudu at the other end has helped Dhoni’s cause on more than one occasion.
Against Kings XI Punjab, earlier in the tournament, Dhoni had erred on the timing of his onslaught and CSK fell short by four runs. Against RCB, Dhoni near-flawless innings was a perfect mixture of talent and determination. His unique ability to hit sixes with a combination of a strong bottom hand and bat swing along with his choice of bowlers to go after stood out. He slammed Pawan Negi for a six off the third ball he faced before seeing off Yuzvendra Chahal, who was having a good game, cautiously. He then took on Negi again carting him for consecutive sixes before taking on Mohammed Siraj and Corey Anderson in the death.
Dhoni, over the years, has been credited for his ability to close out games, remaining unbeaten. He holds the record for the most not outs in ODI history — 73. In eight outings this season, Dhoni has been dismissed only four times, an indicator of him getting back to his best again.
Against Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad, Dhoni walked in with CSK in a strong position, but needing a strong finish. His knocks, an unbeaten 22-ball 51 against Delhi and a 12-ball 25 against Hyderabad, helped CSK notch a few extra runs that proved to be a difference as his team won by 13 and four runs respectively.
Dhoni has also overcome his penchant for sluggish starts, scoring 24 and 22 runs in his first 10 bals in the games against Delhi and Hyderabad. He has already amassed 286 runs, just 175 short of eclipsing his best tally of 461 in 2013.
That he is likely to do so at 36 and at a time when his ability has been doubted makes it more special.