MSD - India acquires a deadly weapon
By H Natarajan
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s body language is something worth noticing. It exudes confidence, it radiates energy, it personifies self-belief and it symbolises positivism. His strides are bustling and business-like; Sunil Gavaskar reckons only the great Viv Richards strode to the wicket with a greater swagger. Dhoni’s personality is of a man who does not view any job as too difficult to accomplish.
His 148 against Pakistan was confirmation of a promise shown at lower levels of the game and his accomplishment at Jaipur raised the bar. The world woke up to see a new star on the cricketing horizon.
Comparisons with Adam Gilchrist may be premature, presumptuous and even preposterous. All the same, Dhoni has all that it takes to get to the exalted level of the Aussie. For sure there are rough edges in his game, but passage of time should smoothen that. That maturity is already becoming evident in Sehwag’s approach of playing the waiting game at Jaipur. He curbed his flair for unrestrained aggression, kept the board tickling with singles and played second fiddle to the man of the moment. That Dhoni can do likewise was evident in the very next ODI at Pune.
Dhoni’s batting style has that rustic look. His feet positioning may be faulty as may be his shoulder while essaying a stroke, but who cares where the feet and shoulder are when the ball finishes where it should. It’s a question of percentage play and that has been productive for him.
Most coaches will be aghast at the unorthodox methods of Dhoni and Sehwag, but good coaches will never point an accusing finger at their technique, even if they eschew from advising their young pupils from adapting such a technique. The reason is simple: Dhoni and Sehwag have perfected an unconventional method which works for them, but it may not work for other less-gifted players, who are better off placing faith in the text book.
It was fitting that the charge of the one-man Jharkhand army came at Jaipur, whose ancient history is steeped in his valor of the Rajput warriors. After squatting and getting up in excess of 300 times in the Sri Lankan innings, Dhoni was back in the line of fire in the very first over of the innings. He fought his way through fatigue and cramps and did not leave the battleground till the mission was accomplished. The young and inexperienced hero had scored over 60% of his team’s total in scoring the highest-ever by a wicket-keeper in an ODI and the joint highest score by an Indian. It was like watching a grandmaster in simultaneous chess action; the only difference was that it had a mix of Kasparov brains and Mike Tyson’s youthful savagery.
His unbeaten 183 is also the highest ODI score in the second innings. That the top 30 highest scores in ODI history does not have another second innings century puts Dhoni’s innings in perspective. Indeed, if this was a battle, his efforts would have been gloriously decorated.
He was 12 runs away from supplanting Saeed Anwar’s 194 as the highest score and could have even gone on to record the first-ever ODI double hundred. Had India, batted first it may have been a different story as he would have got the opportunity to bat the full 50 overs. Thanks to his blitz, India finished with 23 balls to spare and left him stranded.
Dhoni has this Sehwag-like trait for reaching milestones with sixes rather than take the safety route. Like at Dambula against the West Indies in July and against Zimbabwe at Harare in September, he finished the Jaipur match with a six and the Pune game with two sixes in a row. The winning six at Jaipur aggregated his match tally of boundary or over to 120 runs (10 sixes and 15 fours) - a new ODI record. The two sixes at Pune took his ODI tally to 32 from 22 visits to the crease! While his team-mates pick gaps in the field, Dhoni picks the vacant gaps in the sky! MSD is best described as a weapon for Mass Scale Destructor!
Only Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Adam Gilchrist, Sourav Ganguly and Chris Gayle have got to the 150-run on two or more occasions in ODIs. Though these are some of the finest batsmen in history, barring the peerless Viv Richards none of the batsmen got to150 earlier than Dhoni in their careers – the Indian has almost achieving that twice in his promising young career.
At the end of the Pune game, Dhoni’s average is 52.73, in second place behind Michael Bevan (53.58) while his career strike-rate of 108.50 found him on top of the ODI charts – both stats with a minimum qualification of 20 innings.
Comparing Dhoni’s averages with Bevan or strike-rate with Shahid Afridi, two players well in excess of 200 appearances, is not exactly sensible. Consistency over long period of time is a compelling proof of class and Dhoni’s efforts at this point of time is at best a pointer. A more meaningful exercise would be to see how he rates with some of the greats during their early part of their careers. Tendulkar’s first hundred came in his 79th ODI, Jayasuriya’s in his 70th, Lara in his 41st, Sehwag in his 40th, Ganguly in his 32nd and Gilchrist in his 20th. Tendulkar had a sub-29 average after 26 ODIs, Ganguly was under 28 after 20 ODIs, Gilchrist just about 27 after 19 ODIs and Lara below 29 after 20 outings. Jayasuriya’s average touched 20 for the first time in only his 89th ODI and Sehwag is yet to go past 37. Overs-limit cricket is a different ball game and even the best take time to come to grips.
What’s most admirable about Dhoni’s innings at Jaipur is that he was committed to see the team through on his own accord, despite fatigue and cramps, and at Pune by playing a game that was against his nature. India has a history of dramatically capitulation and Dhoni’s efforts to stay till the finish is commendable. It was his tenacity that made the difference between victory and defeat, between a 3-0 lead and a 2-1 reducer, between consolidating on the gains and frittering away an advantageous position. And it was his batting under pressure with Suresh Raina that gave India the series at Pune.
With his work behind showing improvement, he now has to be a serious contender for a place in the Test XI that will help India field a fifth bowler.
Should India ride the momentum and go from strength to strength and win the 2007 World Cup, Dhoni’s knock will be seen as a defining moment. Like India’s victory over the West Indies at Berbice in 1983 and Kapil Dev’s mangum opus at Tunbridge Wells.