In search of finishing touch

In search of finishing touch

Indian skipper M S Dhoni has been struggling to regain his famed explosive endgame

In search of finishing touch

Junction Oval, set in the natural surroundings of the quaint St Kilda suburbs here, is a far cry from the concrete giant that Melbourne Cricket Club is. It’s at this venue, the home ground of a certain Shane Warne, that the Indian cricket team went through its first practice session on Wednesday after its win against Pakistan on Sunday.     

The noticeable feature of India’s session on the day was their centre-pitch practice, which they particularly demanded for, in an apparent bid to practice long hits. MS Dhoni, in particular, spent more time than any other batsman striking the leather as hard as he ever has. The Indian skipper, in fact, made multiple visits to the crease that, in a way, manifested his desperation to get amongst some runs.   

It’s a been a while since India saw a Dhoni special. While he has just one fifty in the last eight one-day internationals, what’s been more glaring is his inability to finish off innings. Few batsmen can rival Dhoni when it comes to finishing. Whether it’s setting up a total or chasing a target, Dhoni has perfected this end-game act like no one else.

Watching Dhoni finish off chases is like watching a tiger hunt down its prey – move stealthily, get closer to the kill and then attack with a burst of power and speed. Dhoni has built his game in somewhat similar fashion -- he waits, blocks and absorbs all the pressure before exploding with his raw power without as much of a sign. It’s like almost challenging the bowler to stop him from winning the game. 

Be it international cricket or the IPL, Dhoni has shown this trait, where he backs himself to conquer the stiffest of targets, on many an occasion. The last illustration of this ability, though, came way back in July 2013 in a tri-series final against Sri Lanka in the West Indies where he plundered 16 runs off the final over by Shaminda Eranga to guide India to what till then appeared to be a tough ask.

Dhoni had allowed the equation to swell to 15 off last six balls with one wicket in hand from a relative comfort of 26 off 36 with two wickets to go. Eranga bowled a dot ball and India needed 15 off five. The second ball hit the roof for six, the third one was sliced over point for four and the fourth one went sailing over extra cover for six. Game over!      
A similar attempt to close out the match last year in a T20I against England came unstuck. Needing 17 off the final over from Chris Woakes, Dhoni clobbered the first ball for six. A familiar tale seemed to unfold but Dhoni couldn’t score the required number of runs after refusing to take singles on two occasions with Ambati Rayudu at the non-striker’s end. 

Dhoni hasn’t seemed quite comfortable in his role as a finisher for some time now. At least twice against New Zealand in January last he failed to kick on after setting himself up nicely while he has regularly failed to shore up the total on this trip to Australia. Scores of 19 off 31, 34 off 61, 17 off 32, 10 off 20 and 18 off 13 in the last five innings he has batted amply suggest his waning influence.

Part of his struggles can be attributed to his dilemma owing to team composition. With the new field restrictions in force, India have been forced to play with a batsman light and with the top-order’s failure becoming a common feature, the middle-order has often crumbled under pressure with the game against Pakistan being an exception.

By his own admission, Dhoni, who has been coming out with more overs to bat than he normally likes, is caught between whether to farm the strike to protect the long tail or go on the offensive.

Dhoni’s strategy, mired in confusion, hasn’t worked for him and maybe he needs a change in his approach. Perhaps, bat up the order like he did against Pakistan or bat without feeling the weight of the world. One way or the other, Dhoni needs to rediscover his magic touch soon because India need Dhoni the finisher.

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