23 March, 2016. It is the ICC World T20, and India are facing Bangladesh in a tense group stage game in Bengaluru, fighting to stay alive in the tournament.
Bangladesh are eight down in a chase of 147, and need two runs off the final ball. They had required two off three, but have lost wickets off the previous two balls.
Hardik Pandya is ready to bowl the final ball, after a lengthy conference with his captain MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh. But shortly before Pandya begins to run in, Dhoni takes off his right glove. As it turned out, it was a masterstroke, demonstrating the acute sharpness of one of world cricket’s sharpest minds.
Pandya bowled outside off. Shuvagata Hom swung and missed. With right hand free, Dhoni was ready to throw. Except, he didn’t. He ran for it and, stunningly, beat the batsman to break the stumps. In one of the most iconic finishes at the World T20, India scraped through by a run.
On Sunday, 21 April, at the 2019 Indian Premier League, Dhoni lived that exact moment all over again. Except that this time, he was at the receiving end of it. With Chennai Super Kings chasing 162 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, a ballistic Dhoni had smashed 22 runs off the first five balls of the last over.
What followed bore uncanny resemblance to that World T20 match. CSK needed two off the final ball. Parthiv Patel, the Bangalore wicket-keeper, took his right glove off. Umesh Yadav bowled outside off. Dhoni swung and missed. Shardul Thakur sprinted, but Patel broke the stumps. In the only event to have panned out differently in the sequence, Patel threw the ball at the stumps.
“We wanted him to hit through the off side because it’s the shorter side of the ground,” Parthiv explained after the game. “If he had hit it on the leg side, there were anyway two runs, because the way he runs, there was no chance of stopping those two. So we wanted to bowl outside the off stump and, surprisingly, he missed it. I wasn’t expecting him to miss (laughs), but surprisingly he missed it.”
The surprises, though, had begun well before that chaotic last over. In the 19th, delivered by Navdeep Saini, Dhoni refused three singles. The man at the other end? Dwayne Bravo.
The West Indian has played close to 450 T20s, and strikes at just under 127. However, he was returning after an 18-day layoff due to hamstring strain. Besides, the surface at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium had thrown up its own surprises, by quickening up in the second innings and with its lack of dew.
Perhaps as a result of these developments, Dhoni thought it best to finish off the chase himself, by reeling off the big hits. He almost did, too, but with Chennai falling short by a run, one couldn’t help but question the ploy.
“Maybe [because Bravo was coming back after a few games out],” Stephen Fleming, the coach said. “I think more the reason was Dhoni felt he was best-equipped to hit the sixes. So the way he calculates the last few overs based on his power, he would’ve looked at it saying, ‘I need four-five sixes to win the game’. And as it panned out, it was pretty close.
“He is so calculated that I would never question the last part of the innings of MS Dhoni. Yes, Bravo’s got power, but if MS has got the feeling that he’s going to win it this way, then back him every time. He’s done it so many times. Tonight, he got us so close again, so I’d never question that.”
Lead image: AFP
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