MS Dhoni came up with an ostentatious performance on Thursday, scoring an unbeaten 28 off 13 balls, laced with three fours and a six, to help Chennai Super Kings beat Mumbai Indians. His latest knock was greeted by many former cricketers, who believe he still remains the cricket's greatest finisher.
When Dwayne Bravo had flicked Jaydev Unadkat towards deep mid-wicket for a single to get MS Dhoni back on strike, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) required 16 off the last four balls to snatch a win in the El Classico of the IPL 2022, against Mumbai Indians (MI). There was, of course, no big deal to make that happen for the ardent Yellow Army if the task was four or five years ago. But at this point, from a man who will turn 41 in just over two months, it was too much to ask for.
However, similar to many Indian cricketers, Dhoni has built a wall around himself. There was a certain belief among CSK fans that Dhoni, whom they fondly call ‘Thala’, would finish things off in style, again.
Dhoni, the unflappable facade, picked up the third last ball, which was pitched at the slot on the fifth stump, and went downtown for a six. He remained unstirred and followed the biggie with a pull over short fine leg for four. It was an off-pace delivery from Unadkat, but Dhoni was ready on the back foot to place that with perfection.
The equation came down to six off the last two balls. The fans inside the stadiums, as well as across the world, were well aware of the fact that the man, who was on strike, took his team across the finishing line from similar kinds of positions on uncountable occasions. The fear was there in Rohit Sharma, who pulled his cap over his eyes after two audacious shots.
Dhoni knew the job was yet to be done. He continued exploding at Dr DY Patil Sports Academy. The penultimate delivery from Unadkat was full on Dhoni’s pads, and the latter whipped away towards deep mid-wicket for a couple. Four needed off the last ball and the finisher Dhoni at the striker’s end. Surely, there was no way the IPL’s El Classico could expect any better climax.
And he did not disappoint. He picked up Unadkat’s low full toss this time and whipped it past short fine leg for four. A sea of spectators at the stadium, who were mostly cheering for the MI, were left stunned.
Considering his poor run of form in the past two editions, many had criticized CSK’s decision of retaining Dhoni at INR 12 crore ahead of the latest IPL mega auction. His 200 runs came at a questionable strike rate of 116.27 in IPL 2020, and his struggle with the bat to get the timing right was quite visible in IPL 2021, where he only managed to aggregate 114 at 106.54, averaging 16.28. Despite leading the franchise to the title for the fourth time, his presence at the crease seemed to not trouble the oppositions anymore.
But the two-time World Cup-winning captain, since making his mark on the international circuit, never fails to surprise even after so many years. The latest happened just two days ahead of the ongoing season’s curtain-raiser when he handed over the leadership duties to the most deserving candidate at the CSK camp Ravindra Jadeja.
The move left many in disbelief and many in wild predictions. Some of them had thought if Dhoni struggled to get rhythm in IPL 2022, he could be benched for the rest of the season, and perhaps forever. But Dhoni’s reply was way cooler than his passionate fans could have ever imagined.
He started off with a 50 not out off 38 balls against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to revive CSK from 61/5. The next match against Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) saw Dhoni playing a breezy cameo of an unbeaten six-ball 16. He struggled to accelerate against Punjab Kings (PBKS), scoring 23 off 28 balls, and then departed cheaply against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). He did not get a chance to bat in the next two games, against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Gujarat Titans (GT) respectively before setting the stage on fire against the MI.
Dhoni is not done yet. The CSK, as a team, may not be having the best of seasons, but Dhoni, as an individual, has been doing his part. His strike rate (131.87) in IPL 2022 has seen a steep rise as well with the rich vein of form.
Even on the wrong side of 40, Dhoni can be a sensation at the crease. He is still able to anticipate the balls and can adapt in a quick time. “…Dhoni’s biggest strength has been that despite being a paradox to the rest of the world, he’s always known exactly who he is. Perhaps that’s why he’s never cared much about what the world has to say about him,” Bharat Sundaresan rightly wrote in his book The Dhoni Touch. Those who had felt that Dhoni is finished better reconsider their thoughts.