India's MS Dhoni walks back to the pavilion after losing his wicket for 37 during the second One Day International (ODI) cricket match between England and India, at Lord's Cricket Ground in London on July 14, 2018. (Photo by OLLY GREENWOOD / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB (Photo credit should read OLLY GREENWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

MS Dhoni: The Finisher, Finished?

After England defeated India comprehensively in the recently concluded three-match ODI series, you’d expect the media to be talking about Joe Root’s spectacular runs in ODIs, Kuldeep Yadav’s magical spells or India’s middle order woes ahead of the World Cup next year. However, like you always see, the Indian media had something different to ponder over and that was the retirement speculations of MS Dhoni.

There was a huge debate not only in India but from around the world about MS Dhoni’s career. When Dhoni collected the ball from the umpire after the match, speculations arose as to whether it is the end of the road for Chennai’s Thala, Ranchi’s Mahiya, India’s Captain Cool and one of the greatest finishers world cricket has ever seen.

MS Dhoni struggled batting lower down the order against England, scoring a mediocre 37 (59) in the 2nd ODI when India was chasing 323, followed by a 42 (66) in the decider. Over the years, Dhoni’s style of finishing matches has been considered a hallmark in cricket from various cricket experts around the world. Dhoni rotates the strike at will, runs fast, puts the pressure on fielders.

On a lighter note, He surely has all the potential to be Sunil Gavaskar’s fantasy batsman because he keeps converting ‘Ones into twos and twos into threes’. And when the opposition thinks its their game now, Dhoni unleashes the beast in himself and takes the game away in just a span of a few overs.

But the question is, does Dhoni still posses the quality he is known for as a finisher and as a batsman? Does he still have a lot to offer as a cricketer or is he running out of time? Only time will tell. But his recent innings were nowhere near the standards Dhoni has set for himself and for other lower order batsmen.
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By looking at the strategies and tactics from India’s recent ODI matches, it’s evident that Dhoni is a bigger part of India’s plans for the 2019 World Cup. He is still one of the fittest guys in the team, he is probably still India’s finest gloveman and he feeds the ears of bowlers with words of wisdom from behind the wickets.

So certainly it’s obvious that he is far from finished as a cricketer but then these attributes alone can’t justify his place in the team if he struggles with the bat and can’t win matches for India like he used to do in the past. Dinesh Karthik’s recent splendid form with both bat and glove provides a well suited option to the captain and it may add more pressure on Dhoni too. Dhoni struggled to rotate the strike against England which is a very rare sight and when it was time to go for big shots Dhoni failed to do that too. It really sparked a huge debate whether it’s time for him to hang up his boots.

A player with the aura of MS Dhoni, who gets respected everywhere, shockingly got booed at Lord’s. When the required rate was increasing at an exponential rate and even the last recognized batsman Hardik Pandya got out, it was surprising to see Dhoni not at all attempting big shots. Maybe Dhoni thought the match was done and dusted and the rest of the innings could be taken as a match practice for the next game. But then, if you pay to watch, you don’t want someone to give up and not even trying to win the match and playing just for a respectable team total. So the crowd also can’t be termed as bad mannered because just like a player has every right to play the way he wants, the crowd also has the right to show their displeasure non-violently.

Many people thought that Dhoni gave up in this match and it has happened for the first time in his career, clearly suggesting that he is old and should move on now. But it wasn’t like that. If you have followed Dhoni’s career you might remember a few similar set of innings where you find them annoying as a fan. Here’s a look back at a couple of MS Dhoni innings where he couldn’t finish it off or to say ‘he didn’t try’.

1. Pakistan vs India 2013 : Dhoni was in the form of his life and played a magnificent innings of 113* when India was 29-5 at one stage. But in the second ODI of the series, the Indian top and middle order struggled again and India required almost 150 in 20 overs with only 4 wickets left. Dhoni, finishing with a score of 54*(89), was a bit annoying for the spectators. Though it was almost certain that India couldn’t win the match from that situation, a player of Dhoni’s capability not even trying to win it is not what you generally pay to watch.

2. India vs Autralia, Semi-final 2015 World Cup : India were chasing a huge target of 329 and Dhoni finished as India’s highest scorer of the match with 65(65). But still, if you had followed the match and could think from a different angle, had Dhoni started hitting a bit earlier, India may have had a better chance to win it you never know.

After the India vs South Africa first ODI at kanpur in 2015, there was a similar outrage from the fans when Dhoni failed to score nine off Rabada’s last over and couldn’t finish the match. People passed judgements that Dhoni is no more the finisher now he used to be. And some were even asking him to retire when he was still the captain of the side. In the very next match Dhoni scored a match winning 92*(86) and almost single handedly won the match for India to make the series 1-1. And suddenly all the talks of his retirement dissipated.
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Cricket is a great leveller, when you perform you get applauded and when you don’t, at times you get severely criticized too. You can’t take anything for granted no matter how big a player you are. But if you have the temperament and ability, you find your way to rise above all the criticism and bounce back.

Dhoni’s unconventional style of finishing matches has made him the finisher he is. You may think that he is delaying it too much at times but maybe he knows better when to rotate and when to explode. There were so many last over tight finishes and close matches which Dhoni had won for India. And if you follow them, you find the same tactics there too from him. Getting the match as close as possible and then suddenly targeting some specific bowlers and finishing it off in style. Many times it paid off for him and a few times it didn’t. But this unorthodox style only made him the finisher he is.

It depends on one’s own discretion how one judges a player. I have tried to put a few examples where Dhoni failed to play the way he wanted and got criticized, but bounced back strongly in the matches followed.

India lost to England because of a collective batting failure of team. Even if one puts the whole blame on Dhoni, what I believe in my very personal opinion, that just two ‘failures’ can’t define a player of Dhoni’s temperament, who is the only player to score 10,000 ODI runs averaging more than 50 and the second fastest to score 10,000 ODI runs after Sanath jayasuriya in terms of number of balls faced.

Tough times never last, tough people do. Dhoni has always found his way back to glory from even the most troubled times and it might happen again. From an Indian fan’s perspective, Dhoni could be the key player for India’s chances in 2019 World Cup because of the experience he brings to the table and India’s continuous middle order woes. It’s an open question and only time will tell this but despite whatever has been said, Dhoni will still go down as one of the greatest ODI player of all time and still has a lot to offer.

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