As a steep bouncer from Trent Boult hit the upper part of Dhoni’s bat and landed safely in Santner’s palms, it summed up the game for Dhoni and India. Dhoni was just one short of his second international T20 half-century, but it wasn’t to be.
If we look exclusively at Dhoni’s score, there is very little scope of finding fault with it. His 49 off 37 balls wasn’t only the second-highest score in the Indian scorecard – he also scored it at the third-highest click. It is only when we analyse it in the context of the match, where India needed close to 10 runs per over from ball one, that we find that a strike rate of 132 was not good enough.
It brings us back to our popular (rather unpopular) subject of whether Dhoni deserves a place in the Indian T20 side with young talent waiting on the sidelines. But hold on a second – is it Dhoni who should be blamed for India’s 40-run loss to New Zealand?
While he was still the captain of India, the one-liner ‘It’s Dhoni’s fault’ had become quite popular. In fact, it was even featured in YouTube videos. However, he has now stepped down as the ODI and the T20 captain. But this perception of the Indian fans still remains.
Barring Dhoni and Kohli, if we add the scores of all the other Indian batsmen in the second T20 against New Zealand, it amounts to 38 runs off 41 balls. The fact is that the Indian batsmen left it far too late. After all, if such a mammoth target was to be chased, there should have been a good opening stand so that the momentum could be carried through the middle overs.
The Indian batting never really got going – but this is not a one-off incident. If we go through the number of matches in which Dhoni has borne the brunt of India’s loss, we will find that in many cases, the highlight of the match has been the utter collapse of the Indian batting order. This puts Dhoni in a very tricky situation, which is not to lose his wicket (on which the hopes of a billion Indian rests) and score briskly at the same time.
More often than not, he has tried to take the match closer. It’s true that his success rate of late has been dipping. But it is what makes him human, isn’t it?
The second question that arises is the position at which Dhoni should be slotted, if he is to still figure in the scheme of things in the Indian T20 side.
During the 2015-16 Indian tour of Australia, Dhoni apparently conceded that he needed some time to get going. If we keep this in mind, is the current number six spot suited for the former captain? In fact, is there any spot in T20s which gives you time to settle?
The scene of a teary-eyed Dhoni after the semi final of the 2015 World Cup has been embedded in the minds of many Indian cricket fans. In that match, after hitting Shane Watson for back-to-back sixes, Dhoni perished to a rocket throw from Maxwell two overs later. With his dismissal, India’s hope of defending the World Cup title also perished.
In the 2016 T20 World Cup semi-final against West Indies, apart from a few glimpses of his vintage self, Dhoni mostly rotated the strike. It was Virat Kohli who scored the bulk of the boundaries.
Even in 2013, in the tri-series final against Sri Lanka, Dhoni, returning from a hamstring injury, played out Mathews and Malinga without scoring off them. It was only in Shaminda Eranga’s final over (when India needed 15 to win) that Dhoni cut loose and muscled India to a victory.
When Dhoni was in his prime, he made the spectators skip a beat with his breath-taking finishing. It was this habit of keeping ‘too much for far too late’, and then delivering eight times out of 10, which once earned him the title of the world’s best finisher. Now, towards the fag end of his career with age not on his side, it is this very attribute that is proving to be his Achilles ’ heel.
With time, Dhoni’s role in the team has also changed. However inauspicious it may seem, he is no longer the flamboyant finisher he once used to be. His role is now more of a sheet anchor who can hold the team together. While it is still working quite well for him in the one-day matches (having a mild start and then making up for it in the latter part), the nature of T20 matches is such that it is almost sinful to play dot balls.
At the end of the day, one also has to appreciate the grit with which Williamson and his boys played. When we celebrate a victory as a team, we also have to be gracious in the moments of defeat. As far as Dhoni is concerned, it would be too early to write him off. He has proved time and again that though he is ageing, he is still a lion who is more than capable of pouncing on his prey on his day.