The Dhoni mantra

Mahendra Singh Dhoni... deadly at the ‘death.’-K. PICHUMANI

Big-hitting by Dhoni and Jadeja, and incisive bowling helped India crush England in Kochi. Stan Rayan reports.

He is a cricketer under severe pressure. Calls to quit limited-over captaincy on one side, advice to give up Test leadership on the other and with almost all the batters above him inconsistent, life is clearly tough for Mahendra Singh Dhoni these days.

But surprisingly, despite the pressure, the Indian captain has come out with flying colours with his scintillating performances with the bat in one-day internationals.

His performances in Tests the last couple of years may be disappointing, India may look a loser even at home, but Dhoni is thriving in the 50-over game.

Since the end of the World Cup in early April 2011, Dhoni has had a remarkable run with a total of 1166 runs, with 13 not outs, from 27 innings. That gives him a remarkable average of 82.28 with a strike rate of 92.39. He has also hit eleven 50s during this period and a century which came under severe pressure in Chennai.

When he came in to bat in Chennai in the first of the three-match series against Pakistan towards the end of last year, India was tottering at 29 for five against a deadly Pakistan attack. But he produced an unbeaten 113 off 125 balls. The situation had been a shade better in the next few games, but Dhoni has come up with some sterling knocks each time and after the Kochi match — which India won hands down by a 127-run margin — his average for the last five games, with a total of 307 runs with two not outs, stands at a stunning 102.33 with a strike rate of 85.27. He has decorated it with 13 sixes and 19 fours.

Well, how does he keep the pressure off when he is in the middle, especially in the end overs where he thrives?

“As I always say, you bring the same kind pressure that you’re feeling in the middle to the bowler,” said Dhoni after the impressive 72 off 66 balls — along with his 96-run stand for the sixth wicket with Ravindra Jadeja (61 n.o. off 37 balls) — in Kochi which helped India level the five-match series against England. “That’s the time when it’s all about nerves, whoever holds the nerves better will come out as the winner… you try to be one step ahead of what the opposition wants to do, that really helps.”

This is what has probably allowed Dhoni dominate the end overs where he is frequently the master. Just hear what the England captain Alastair Cook had to say about his Indian counterpart after the Kochi knock.

“He’s the best player in the world in those situations, in these conditions. It’s very hard to stop him and you get exposed if you don’t quite get your skills right,” said Cook. “It’s very tough when you’ve got someone like Dhoni in at the end. He does it time and again in one-day games and he’s incredibly hard to bowl at. With that extra man in the fielding circle, now he’s harder to stop. Hopefully, one day we can produce a bit of magic to get him out, which puts them under pressure.”

Dhoni virtually rode a ‘helicopter’ to soar over England in Kochi’s Nehru Stadium which was overflowing with about 60,000 roaring fans.

His trademark ‘helicopter’ shot, the quirky whirl of the willow, had the crowd roaring for more.

“It fetches me quite a bit of runs. To be frank, with that heavy bat, it’s not an easy shot to play but you can go underneath the ball and get a fair bit of elevation and look to go over the infield,” said the Indian captain about his special one.

“It’s something that I used to play when I played a lot of tennis ball cricket earlier, something everybody plays in India and where everybody thinks he is a Sachin Tendulkar because they have scored runs on the street. It has really helped me, especially to have a good command in the last 10 overs when bowlers are looking for yorkers to strike.”

THE SCORES

Second ODI — India v England, Nehru Stadium, Kochi, January 15, 2013. India won by 127 runs.

India: A. Rahane b Finn 4, G. Gambhir b Dernbach 8, V. Kohli c Bell b Woakes 37, Yuvraj lbw b Tredwell 32, S. Raina b Finn 55, M. S. Dhoni c Root b Dernbach 72, R. Jadeja (not out) 61, R. Ashwin (not out) 1; Extras (lb-5, w-10): 15; Total (for six wkts. in 50 overs): 285.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-18, 3-71, 4-119, 5-174, 6-270.

England bowling: Finn 10-1-51-2, Dernbach 9-0-73-2, Woakes 9-0-60-1, Patel 10-0-43-0, Tredwell 10-0-48-1, Root 2-0-5-0.

England: A. Cook lbw b Bhuvneshwar 17, I. Bell c Dhoni b Shami 1, K. Pietersen b Bhuvneshwar 42, J. Root b Jadeja 36, E. Morgan c Dhoni b Bhuvneshwar 0, C. Kieswetter c Raina b Ashwin 18, S. Patel (not out) 30, C. Woakes lbw b Jadeja 0, J. Tredwell lbw b Ashwin 1, S. Finn c Dhoni b Ashwin 0, J. Dernbach (run out) 2; Extras (b-5, lb-2, w-4): 11; Total (in 36 overs): 158.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-58, 3-73, 4-73, 5-110, 6-132, 7-132, 8-135, 9-135.

India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 10-2-29-3, Shami 4-1-24-1, Ishant 4-0-28-0, Jadeja 7-1-12-2, Yuvraj 4-0-19-0, Ashwin 7-0-39-3.