The thing that sets MSD apart from all others is the tremendous self-belief he possesses. We saw even in IPL 2018, which marked the resurgence of Dhoni the finisher, that he backed himself to chase down even 50 runs in the last three overs and did it successfully more often than not.
With his vast experience, Dhoni knows that when the match enters the last three-four overs and both teams have a chance, the one with steely nerves prevails nine times out of ten. This is why he takes the game as deep as possible and then feeds off the nervous energy of the opposition bowlers. Even the best in the business falter under the mounting pressure of slog overs and this is when the veteran makes hay while the sun shines.
The keeper-batsman is very different to someone like a Virat Kohli who has also cracked the code of chasing totals. Kohli’s 21 centuries in run chases are a testament to his calibre. However, someone like a Kohli likes to be at par with the required run rate or sometimes, even a touch ahead. On the contrary, Dhoni doesn’t mind lagging behind considerably because he knows that a couple of big hits can always even things out.
For instance, Kohli would set himself to take the team over the line by the 48th or 49th over and have a buffer of six to ten balls that in case anything does not go as per plan, he can budget for that. You give Dhoni either a 250-run target or a 350-run target, he would not shy away from even utilizing the last ball of the last over.
Now, this method is both high risk and high reward. If Dhoni takes the game deep due to which the required run rate climbs and then he gets out, he is bound to get criticism from several quarters. Most of the flak he has been copping in recent times is due to this very strategy. With age, obviously, his reflexes have slowed down and his percentage of finishing games has decreased. But when it comes off, it looks great.
One has to understand that when MSD finishes games, it is not a fluke. He has a reliable strategy that has served him well for so many years. The only pitfall is that he is very rigid with his methods. Give him a 200-run target or 300, he would take it right down to the wire which can sometimes be avoided for sure.
A case in point, he scored just one run of the 44th over bowled by Adam Zampa in the 3rd ODI at Melbourne. Even the dressing room might have got a bit jittery but Dhoni knew what he was doing all along. He saw off the overs of Zampa and Jhye Richardson who were bowling well and then went after the likes of Peter Siddle and Marcus Stoinis to seal the deal.
"It was a slow wicket, so it was a bit difficult to hit whenever you wanted to. It was important to take it to the end because some of their bowlers were on the verge of finishing their quota. No point going after the bowlers who were bowling well,” he said at the post-match press conference after collecting the Man of the Series award.
It is quite clear that Dhoni of the present is not the same as Dhoni of ten years back who could mint sixes at ease. Now, he needs a bit more time and also some support at the other end. He needs someone like a Kedar Jadhav or a Dinesh Karthik or a Virat Kohli to hit an occasional boundary and take the pressure off him so that he can then keep rotating the strike and set himself up for the final launch.
And that is the beauty of a team sport. You don’t need all eleven batters to go after the bowlers. If a Pant is important in the Indian batting line up, so is a Pujara. In his new role, Dhoni allows the stroke-makers to rally around him. The updated modus operandi may not be as heroic as the previous one but is undoubtedly a mighty effective one.
At the end of the day, you want your batters to win matches for the team. As long as MS Dhoni keeps closing games for India, we are not complaining.
©Cricket World 2019