The scenes said it all. With two runs to win, MS Dhoni took a single, exchanged smiles with the joint second-highest century maker in ODI cricket, his captain, Virat Kohli and let him hit the winning runs. India had breezed past Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. 5-nil. Call it a cakewalk or a stroll in the park, it was all done clinically and professionally. The sequence of events that followed was even more symbolic.
Jasprit Bumrah’s Man of the Series award, a tempo-like vehicle was used by Kohli’s army for a victory lap at the R Premadasa Stadium. It was picture-perfect. Laden with blue jerseys, front doors opened, squeezed passengers at the back, some sitting on the roof, some seated facing the direction opposite to which the car was heading, the red-four-wheeler somehow moved. For a moment, it looked like a shared auto ride. At the steering was Dhoni. He’d been a role model right till the series began, for the entire bunch. As it came to an end, his legend had grown considerably. Here he was, still a ‘driving’ force.
If you look at it from all angles, Dhoni had a near-perfect series. He was everywhere. Breaking records, scoring runs, affecting dismissals, getting DRS spot-on, seizing moments; in the thick of things throughout. Yet he didn’t earn a single Man of the Match award. Contributions didn’t go unnoticed, but went unrewarded, individually. How ironical to the Dhoni we know.
He broke four key records this ODI series. First, he went past Mohammad Azharuddin to become the fourth highest run-getter for India in ODIs. Remember, Azharuddin batted at No.5, Dhoni bats at six.
Secondly, he played his 300th ODI this series. For a man who got out on his first ball in international cricket, it tells you 36-year old Dhoni has made some journey.
Third, Dhoni now has 74 not outs in ODI cricket. Just, 74. Also, absorb this: In successful ODI chases, Dhoni’s average is 101.88.
And fourth, he now has 100 stumpings in ODI cricket. The most by any wicketkeeper. Of those, how many stumpings do you think Dhoni hasn’t just completed but created as well? Tough to tell, huh?
— ICC (@ICC) 3 September 2017
The last two records that he’s went past, in a way, also sum up the kind of force Dhoni is in ODI cricket. A laser-quick wicketkeeper and a legendary finisher.
Looking from his teammates’ perspective, they now realise they have been blessed to have a leader-like figure in Dhoni. What they also realise, is that he won’t be there for too long now. Age is catching up on him. Time is passing quickly. No one knows how long before Dhoni calls it quits.
And therefore, every advice that comes out of his mouth becomes all the more important for youngsters. Kuldeep Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah; all value and appreciate Dhoni’s words. Social media posts from the team, praising him, have become common. Even senior players like Rohit Sharma and ViratKohli himself understand what Dhoni brings to the team at 36.
While presenting Dhoni a memento on his 300th ODI, Kohli had expressed his heart out in just two sentences. “What do I say. 90 percent of us started our career under you. It is an honour to give this me mento to you. And you will always remain our captain.” Enough said.
Finally from his batting perspective, this series again reiterated why Dhoni is still the king of ODI cricket. Batting at No.5, Dhoni found the space to operate just as he likes. Much of it is because Dhoni didn’t get out to spin. In fact, he didn’t get out in the entire series. A few technical changes in his batting, including the switch from morrant pads to normal ones and that trigger movement to try and not get late on the ball, but that’s just about it. He’s still the same Dhoni.
When the entire batting unit was struggling against Akila Danajaya’s spin in the second ODI, Dhoni was at ease. Because Dhoni doesn’t just face spin best, Dhoni manages spin best. He’ll defend. He’ll take singles. He’ll take a double if he’s placed it well. He’ll hit the bad ball for four. Efficient, isn’t it? But the key here is, he uses his bat, pad, body behind the ball better than anyone. More importantly, he’s always trying to get close to the pitch of the ball. Dhoni also doesn’t leave gap between bat-pad and judges length quickly. Basic things, right? But Dhoni has got all of them ticked.
Without anyone’s knowledge, he’ll start controlling the game, stitching partnerships, finding the odd boundary in between. All this while giving the other batsmen license to operate from the other end. As they like. He played second fiddle to Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the second ODI, as India won by 3 wickets. “When I went in to bat, MS told me to play my natural game like I play in Test cricket and don’t take any pressure as we had a lot of overs at that time,” Bhuvneshwar said.
Add to that his calming presence and influence. Throwback to the third ODI of the series. Crowd trouble, bottles being thrown by disappointed Sri Lankan fans as India cruise to a six-wicket win, and Dhoni decides to take a nap. Amidst all the chaos. But then, who are we talking about.
Essentially, Dhoni infuses into India’s batting order the same serenity Xavi Hernandez used to bring to Barcelona’s midfield in the Pep Guardiola era. He stands at the crease, goes about his business and dictates play much like how Xavi’s touch, control and vision helped him penetrate opponents.
But if one day you see Dhoni doing the Cristiano Ronaldo ‘Calma’ celebration, don’t be surprised. He’s totally entitled to do that. Just that it won’t suit him.