Dhoni and Moses-like miracles!

To lead the team, don the wicket-keeping gloves and also play the pivot in rousing pursuits is a tough proposition, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni has handled these varied roles with aplomb. It is time to recognise his ability rather than draw inferences from destiny and luck. Dhoni is a supreme cricketer and let’s doff our hats to him, writes K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

When defeat lurks and the required run rate mounts, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s self-belief swells. Inevitably he helps India steal last-gasp victories like he did in the Tri-nation ODI series final against Sri Lanka at Port of Spain while last-man Ishant Sharma nervously stood at the non-striker’s end.

Dhoni’s unbeaten 45 (52b, 5x4, 2x6) was crafted amidst chaos while five wickets, ranging from Suresh Raina’s to Vinay Kumar’s, tumbled around him. The 15 runs required in the last over, bowled by Shaminda Eranga, were dismissed with impunity as Dhoni muscled his big hits (16 runs) despite the obvious discomfort caused by a hamstring strain.

Captain-Cool had added another chapter to his pulsating orchestra of clinical finishes and all he would say at the end of mayhem was: “I think I am blessed with a bit of good cricketing sense. I knew I could get 15 runs off the last over.” These razor-edge skirmishes may not be for the faint-hearted but thanks to Dhoni, Indian fans have the faith that the Men in Blue can buck the odds even if the final over equation can test the limits of statistical probability.

The script wasn’t supposed to be like this — specifically for a generation scarred by Javed Miandad’s last-ball six off Chetan Sharma at Sharjah in 1986 — as close-finish victories were often presumed to be the stronghold of rival teams. For most fans of that era — the children of the 1980s — the most favoured tool when India soared and stumbled in the chase, was the remote, to switch off the television. The superstition was that when the team was not watched, they somehow managed to win. Sadly these blind leaps of faith often led to heart-breaks.

The tables have turned and how! The second most populous nation now stays glued to the action because with Dhoni around, victory is possible. The ‘gift of hope’ is a fabulous one and Dhoni’s pyrotechnics with the bat has precisely done that while the fans nurse that inevitable ‘our-hero-will-deliver’ feeling, an emotion more associated with delirious audiences in theatres, witnessing the death-defying feats of superstars.

Understandably labels that highlight Dhoni’s chutzpah and luck have multiplied with the ‘destiny’s child’ reference doing the rounds. However, it would be a fallacy to link the Indian skipper’s success rate in backs-to-the-wall scenarios to an intangible like good fortune.

Dhoni is no mere slogger, who blasts the ball into the orbit. He is a smart batsman endowed with a shrewd brain, the ability to think on his feet and the added strength in his arms, that transfers power into his marauding bat, is a welcome bonus. The ability to think clearly, even when the situation demands a copious outflow of sweat and twitching nerves, is a hallmark that defines Dhoni. Add to it his mammoth self-esteem and you have a player, who like Moses, can part the seas.

The ‘Best Finisher’ tag now sits easy on him and it is a legacy that had the likes of Javed Miandad and Michael Bevan as its initial purveyors.

A strong self-belief, the kind that Dhoni professes, isn’t something that is strange to Indian cricket. Remember Kapil Dev’s four consecutive sixes off Eddie Hemmings to avoid the follow-on while number 11 Narendra Hirwani watched in a Lord’s Test against England in 1990? Or his unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup? Or Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘Desert Storm’ knocks against Australia at Sharjah in 1998? Or closer to the present times, Virat Kohli’s assault on the Sri Lankans in a mammoth chase at Hobart?

Be it the past or the present, we do have instances of spell-binding brilliance that makes a mockery of unnerving circumstances. But where Dhoni scores over the rest is in his ability to repeatedly dish out champagne-popping performances. Kohli though has the talent and time to further embellish his credentials.

Be it for India or for the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League, Dhoni has shown that he knows the precise time to slot the fifth gear and leave the rivals panting on the highway to doom. An enormous trust in his own skill-sets does help Dhoni make those gut-level decisions, which can flummox critics, but in the end, he does emerge the winner. His self-elevation over an in-form Yuvraj Singh in the World Cup final against Sri Lanka at Mumbai in April 2011, was seen as a foolish move. But by the time he hoisted Nuwan Kulasekara for that winning six, he had won over more fans than can be imagined.

Like all fine finishers, Dhoni’s innings template is initially mounted on a flurry of singles and twos interspersed with that crunching blow for the maximum yield and when the contest reaches its tipping point, he reverts to his free-flowing explosive ways with which he first caught the eye. With the bottom-hand playing a decisive role allied with amazingly flexible wrists, Dhoni can dig out yorkers or carve his inimitable helicopter six. Along the way, he stitches key partnerships and also encourages the tail to last.

Champions have this ability to stay in the present. Dhoni has that trait as he breaks down big targets into smaller milestones and goes about his job. Being grounded and not letting victories and defeat affect his composure also helps him stay afresh. For all the hype churned up by marketing moghuls and hysterics by commentators and shrill television anchors, cricket is just a game and the man from Ranchi recognises that.

On April 2, 2011 when India erupted with joy after Dhoni lifted the World Cup, a friend of his, who spent a large chunk of that epochal night conversing with the skipper, said: “He was remarkably composed. He was happy but he never went over-the-top. To be so calm at all times is a remarkable achievement.” Even when India plumbed the depths in England and Australia, Dhoni never lost his equanimity.

With 7,358 ODI runs averaging a fabulous 51.45 and a fine strike-rate of 88.17, Dhoni is right up there among the finest batsmen ever to have played limited overs cricket. And recently, he has also done reasonably well in Tests (4,209 runs) with defining knocks like the 224 against Australia at Chennai, earlier this year, enhancing his halo.

To lead the team, don the wicket-keeping gloves and also play the pivot in rousing pursuits is a tough proposition, but Dhoni has handled these varied roles with aplomb. It is time to recognise his ability rather than draw inferences from destiny and luck. Dhoni is a supreme cricketer and let’s doff our hats to him.