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How long can we keep defending Dhoni?

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MS Dhoni played a baffling knock on Tuesday

@ IPL T20

How long can we keep defending Dhoni?

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Anirudh Suresh

09/23/2020

Perhaps, over the course of the last 12 months, we’ve made way too much of Martin Guptill’s run out of Dhoni. Perhaps the run-out, in itself, was an inconsequential event in the game. Perhaps New Zealand would have won either way, and fate just wanted to be kind to its favorite child, MS Dhoni.

We will never know. Maybe the only feasible way to deduce what would have happened is to transport ourselves to a parallel universe where Guptill’s throw would have missed the stumps and rewatch the game there. And maybe in that universe, Dhoni’s presence made no difference to the game whatsoever. Maybe, like he’d been doing for 71 balls prior to his dismissal, he just scrambled and ‘dotted’ his way to trouble and maybe, like Malinga did to him in the 2014 WT20 final, Boult choked him and did not let him get away. We will never know.

What we do know, though, is that when it comes to Dhoni, each and every single one of us is living the past and, no matter what he does or how badly he fares, his loyalists will go to any extent to defend him - even when he plays an indefensible, inexplicable knock like he did versus Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday.

There is truly only one term to describe Dhoni’s knock on Tuesday: selfish. For his 17-ball stay at the middle rendered of absolutely no use to the side and, worse, nullified the heroic efforts of Faf du Plessis, who deserved so much more than watching his gallantry be buried by an insouciant knock from an individual at the other end who at no stage was committed to taking his side over the line. For all his ‘versatility’ - both as a cricketer and as a batsman - Dhoni showed none yesterday. 

It would be naive, of course, to berate Dhoni for not attempting to smash the ball out of the ground from ball one - he did, after all, walk in at a near-impossible situation, with his side needing 103 off 38. But his inability and stubbornness to not switch gears in the midst of Faf’s superlative knock was appalling. 

Consider this: when Dhoni walked in, du Plessis was 17 off 18; however, in the course of the next three overs, the South African raced off to 55 off 29, took CSK from 115-5 to 159-5 and gave them a realistic chance to taste victory. CSK, post the three-over onslaught, needed 58 off their last 3 overs and, by now, Dhoni, who was 6 off 9, had already got his eye in. 

However, the CSK skipper, for reasons only he knows, wouldn’t even attempt to hit a single boundary off his next four balls. By the time he ‘attempted’ to hit a boundary, du Plessis had added 17 more runs and perished, the required run rate had climbed over 36 and Rajasthan had won the match. Put simply, Dhoni’s abhorrent lack of intent robbed Faf and CSK of what could have been one of the greatest heists in T20 history. 

What’s irksome about Dhoni’s knock is not that he did not get the job done. It’s that he did not even try. There were plenty - and I mean plenty - of chances for him to shift gears. He could and should have been more proactive in the 16th Jofra Archer over where he played two dots and took a single to finish the over off, there was a golden opportunity in the 17th Unadkat over where he took two harmless singles and, even post that, there was the first ball of the 18th over bowled by Tom Curran where he could so easily have turned it up. But no, he wouldn’t do that until the 3rd ball of the final over, by which the game was already gone and Curran was only trying to not bowl a no-ball. As Gambhir noted, Dhoni hit three non-relevant sixes after the game was over and scored some ‘personal runs’ to boost his statistics.

You cannot be playing dots, taking singles and ‘giving strike’ to the in-form batsman when the required run rate is over 15. No, that is not clever. That is outright incompetence and ineptness; that is glaring lack of match awareness and that is showing utter disdain and disregard to taking your team to victory. And mind you, this is not the first time Dhoni has pulled something like this. In just the last one and a half years alone, he has done it thrice. People ran to his defence when he, again, scored some ‘personal runs’ against England in the 2019 World Cup, people shielded him after he was ‘leaving’ balls in the semi-final against New Zealand - and also did to Jadeja what he did to Faf yesterday - and now, here we are, again. How long can we keep defending Dhoni?

It is funny how the moment Dhoni plays a bad knock, people are out with their calculators talking about “Net Run Rate”, talking about ‘optimization of resources’ and what not. If NRR were a thing, Dhoni could easily have asked Jadeja and Chahar to block it out in case he’d gotten out - both batsmen are capable enough to do that. It is not like CSK were 68/6 chasing 200 for them to be worried about NRR. They were, at one point, 58 runs shy off victory boasting of a batsman who’d scored 44 off his previous 12 balls. If, as a captain, you’re thinking about NRR, without even showing intent, when your side still has an outside chance of winning, then you need to take a good look at yourself in the mirror. 

And maybe Dhoni should do just that: take a good look at himself in the mirror. His post-match comments reeked of excuses and, for a captain who has built a reputation as a team man, him throwing Lungi Ngidi under the bus was detestable, to say the least. 

“I haven't batted for a long time. 14-day quarantine doesn't help. Also wanted to try different things, give opportunities to Sam. Have the opportunity to try different things. If it doesn't work, you can always go back to your strengths,” he said, after the match.

For starters, the whole statement about his batting position - and approach - made no sense. If he knew deep down that he was rusty, then he had no business coming in at No.7 and eating balls just to ‘get the feel back’; in that case, he should, ideally have, come in at No.4 or No.5 and taken his time before unloading, like Faf did. 

And, while the Sam Curran promotion was understandable and logical, there was absolutely reason for Dhoni to send Kedar Jadhav ahead of him. In 14 matches in IPL 2019, Jadhav got his runs at a rate of 95.85 and, on top of that, he’d only hit 5 sixes in 15 IPL matches prior to him walking out to bat yesterday. Yesterday, he walked in with CSK needing 140 off 11 overs. Dhoni’s comments suggest that he’s either trying to make a fool of the common fan or that he’s completely lost it as a captain. 

Perhaps it’s more of the latter. Dhoni might be past it and might have lost it not just as a batsman, but as a cricketer. His approach yesterday, and in many ways his approach in the games against England and New Zealand, suggested that he is a man who now has the fear of failure looming over his head every time he walks to bat, and knows deep down that he is well past it. It was indeed damning to see Fleming, in the post-match press conference, use Dhoni’s template of excuses in a bid to justify all-things-wrong the CSK skipper did against the Royals. 

Perhaps it’s time for acceptance - both from the end of Dhoni and his loyalists. With every passing day, there is more glaring evidence that the glory days of the past are dead and buried. The MS Dhoni of 2020 is not the Dhoni of 2011 and will never be. And so, instead of fooling ourselves, it’d be better to admit the same and move on, instead of vehemently denying it and pulling out absurd excuses to defend a man whose actions, with every passing day, are getting more perplexing and indefensible. 

Dhoni might still have it in him to prove all his doubters like myself wrong, but, until he actually does so, I would like to continue to believe that his run-out in the World Cup was inconsequential.  

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