M.S Dhoni is known for his big hitting skills all over the cricketing world. The famed finisher is probably the best cricket has witnessed so far. However, the last few ODI matches sent out a different message. Dhoni was still the finisher but in a far different capacity. It is almost as if he is slowly passing on the baton. There were instances which sparked a different feeling, which saw him playing the role of a senior. Dhoni was playing the mentor. He wasn’t being an assassin, instead he was an anchor for the team.
Dhoni The Anchor
I must confess, seeing M.S Dhoni play the anchor is pleasing, there isn’t a calmer sight than watching him stabilize a sinking ship. Yet it’s not digestible.
The quest began during the second ODI against Sri Lanka. Having been set a modest target of 236, India seemed assured of victory. However some brilliant bowling by Akila Dhananjaya meant India were reduced to 131-7. Dhoni stood like a rock on the field nudging balls, taking singles. He was often seen talking to his Bhuvaneshwar Kumar who was at the other end. The duo pushed the game slowly back in India’s favour.
Both soon got acclimatized to play, it was time to unleash some strokes. But it wasn’t Dhoni who went all guns blazing, instead it was Kumar. What was even more surprising was the score card at the end of the innings. Kumar had not only outscored Dhoni, but also ended up facing more number of deliveries. And guess what? In his innings of 45* Dhoni hit only a single boundary. While Kumar in his innings of 53* hit four boundaries and a six.
The story didn’t conclude over here. A similar trend followed in the next two ODIs. The second ODI saw Dhoni playing second fiddle to Rohit Sharma. While in the fourth innings Manish Pandey who had faced equal number of deliveries had outpaced Dhoni. It was almost as if Dhoni had pushed himself away and let Pandey reach a milestone.
The start of something new
It was a start to something new. It was a sign that said, Dhoni has realized he isn’t capable of smacking the ball the same way he once used to. That age is coming in to play slowly. But it also said that he is willing to use all his remaining abilities to the fullest, to serve the teams cause and hence his choice to play the anchor.
Dhoni now seems to be playing the elder man in the family, the father figure who is taking all the trouble to maintain stability and letting the young ones enjoy.
Dhoni The Mentor
If you’ve been an ardent follower of Indian cricket, it is a very common site to see Dhoni chirping tips to the spinners. But this time it was different. Dhoni isn’t the leader anymore yet he was seen guiding the players on the field. What this meant was Kohli could field outside the circle where he is best suited. And Kohli fielding on the boundary means that he saves potential 10 runs for the team rather more. As they say in cricket runs saved are runs scored!
The first ODI against Australia saw an Indian batting order collapse and the onus was once against on Hardik Pandya and M.S Dhoni to build the innings once again. With the innings stabilized, Pandya chose to be the offender and perplexed his target Adam Zampa. That over marked the change of pace for the Indian innings.
There was something which didn’t go unnoticed was the fact that after almost every big hit Dhoni walked up to Pandya calming him down. On a miss he would assure him of his abilities while after a six he would keep him in his senses. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who also added a vital contribution was given the same treatment by M.S.
Lending a helping hand to the spin twins
During the bowling the stump mic constantly heard him guiding the two spinners. “isko ghumane wala daal” or “nai nai isko itna seedha nai”. While sometimes it was intuitive at times it was for his ability to read the batsmen.
When someone was hitting them for big runs a voice from behind the stumps would say its okay let him hit, stick to your plan. When the bowlers would get perplexed after being hit for runs and see his captain get annoyed, Dhoni quietly walks up to them his arm around the shoulder advising the bowler making him belief in his art.
In the second ODI when Kuldeep Yadav took a hat-trick the young lad confessed to asking “Mahi Bhai” what to bowl.
But when the two of them got a wicket he moved aside for he knew it was their moment not his. For that matter, he may be the mentor on field yet he knows his boundaries, letting kohli lead, after all he is the captain. But one thing is for sure, Dhoni might not be the captain, the leader in him is still alive.
Passing on the baton
While we are aware that Hardik Pandya will be donning on the finisher’s hat sooner or later. He is getting groomed to hit hard and go big. What is surprising is M.S Dhoni’s denial to end games the way he did. While he is still the finisher he doesn’t end games anymore.
India v/s Australia 3rd ODI
Dhoni entered when India needed barely 10 runs of roughly 4 overs. Dhoni enters and takes a single. The entire crowd was on their feet to witness M.S. do what he is known for, hit the ball out of the park.
The next over Smith handed the ball to Maxwell, a part-time spinner. Now it looked like even Australians wanted him to hit big and finish in his trademark fashion. However, he only chipped 3 singles of the six balls he faced. He didn’t even hit the winning runs; rather let Pandey do the honor. This was his message the the crowd, the baton is being passed!
Dhoni has molded into his new role and enhanced the side. His relationship with the younger lads seems to be symbiotic as he feeds on their batting prowess to allow himself to mellow down; they feed on his experience to allow themselves to thrive.