When Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in the city, it comes to a screeching halt. His charisma and on-field performances continue to enthral the spectators, keeping them on the edge of their seats until the very last ball.
It’s still vivid. Five years ago, he marched to the middle of the cauldron after Virat Kohli had lost his wicket in the ICC World Cup final and pummelled the Sri Lankan bowlers to all parts of the ground. He then lofted medium-pacer Nuwan Kulsekara into the private enclosure, to the right of the Indian dressing room, to ensure India's victory.
Accustomed to showering adulations on Sachin Tendulkar, Mumbaikars started ‘hero-worshipping’ Dhoni for his brave show with the bat, which helped India win the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.
However, it was not the knock on April 2, 2011 that first earned Dhoni a place in the hearts of the Mumbai cricket fans. Four years before that inspiring innings, thousands of men and women, old and young, from all walks of life. gave a ticker-tape welcome to Dhoni’s team on a wet day. The Indian team had brought home the inaugural World T20 title after downing arch-rival Pakistan in the final in Johannesburg.
“We have brought Mumbai to a standstill,” was the spontaneous and appreciating remark of the Indian captain who had won his first World title.
Dhoni’s team has always had a terrific connect with the locals. But things haven’t always gone well for the host nation in Mumbai. India lost the first Twenty20 match played at the Wankhede Stadium against England. A last ball finish fashioned by England captain Eoin Morgan had negated Dhoni’s aggressive first innings score of 38 (18 balls).
It will be after a little over three-and-a-half years that India will be playing another official Twenty20 at the Wankhede Stadium, and Dhoni will be keen to neutralise the 0-1 score at the venue.
Leading up to the match, the question in every fan’s mind will be whether Dhoni has the magic wand to fix the West Indies in the semi-final on Thursday. Dhoni bats at No. 6 and there are five match-winners, in their own right, before him.
Presently, the talk of the town is Virat Kohli, who has lit the flame of hope of another Indian title win. But time and again, as it transpired in the recent make-or-break match against Australia in Mohali, Dhoni cannot be ignored.
There is no gainsaying that all action will revolve around Dhoni, but as he said during the post match interview in Mohali, the others have to start chipping in with more runs.
Local boy Rohit Sharma would perhaps draw confidence from the 37 IPL matches he has played at the venue where he has amassed 1,091 runs. Dhoni has done his bit and now it’s time for others like Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina to respond.
Another important topic of discussion before India’s match against Darren Sammy’s West Indies is, what is it that makes Dhoni the fulcrum of India’s fortunes? Some facts provide the answers, the most vital being his ability to build partnerships in the company of Kohli, Raina, Sharma and Yuvraj Singh.
Dhoni is also the second highest run-getter at No. 6 with 415 runs in 22 innings (he has remained not out on 11 occasions), and is only slightly behind Shahid Afridi’s 468 from 32 innings. He has led India to wins in 39 matches and an extraordinary statistical detail in this feat is that he did not bat 29 times and remained unbeaten on nine occasions.
M.S. Dhoni in Twenty20:
Matches: 67; Not out: 30; Runs: 1026; Average: 35.38, Highest score: 48 not out. Catches: 39, Stumpings: 21.
ICC World T20:
Matches: 32; Not out: 13 not out; Runs: 514; Average: 34.27; Highest score: 45. Catches: 21; Stumpings: 11.