Resolute Dhoni proves his class again

Veteran silences critics with another fine knock

MS Dhoni seldom betrays emotions on the field. On Sunday when most of the Indian team anxiously chewed their nails in the dressing room, Dhoni was carrying the rescue act with a dead pan expression.

India were 29/7 against Sri Lanka and dreading worst. Once he finished, the wicket-keeper batsman, with a gutsy 65, had lent some respectability to the total. The other Indian batsmen collectively contributed a mere 42 runs.

Dhoni, all through his career, has been synonymous with saving the Indian team from No 6 position. At 36, his approach might have changed from an aggressor to calculated executioner, but it takes nothing away from the value he brings to the side.

Since he bade goodbye to Test cricket and later the captaincy questions have time and again risen over his retirement. Dhoni has dealt with the ever-increasing unpleasantness with a punishng bat. His retirement from Test cricket meant lesser number of matches for him. Dhoni, since then, has worked harder on his fitness. His hitting prowess has dipped, he consumes more balls at the start, but his batting average has never been a matter of worry.

For those questioning Dhoni's ability, he has scored 781 runs in the 17 ODIs this year at an average of 65.08, beginning with a whirlwind 134 against England in Cuttack in January. While his co-finishers Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh struggled with fitness, Dhoni has stoically held his place.

On Sunday, he was the lone bright spot in an abysmal batting show against Sri Lanka, a team that had come into the series with 12 consecutive defeats in the ODIs. When best of the power-hitters of the Indian team helplessly resigned themselves against the moving ball, Dhoni showed them how it was done. He made 58.03 percent of the team runs, which was the highest contribution ever by an Indian batsman in an ODI where all 11 players batted.

While Dhoni's innings came off 87 balls with 10 fours and two sixes, the other India batsmen's combined total of 42 came off 143 balls with seven fours.

The way he marshalled the lower middle-order was exemplary. He knew when to take a single and when to occupy the crease. When he found he was losing his limited partners rapidly, he decided to completely take over. He dealt only in boundaries, bringing his 50 with a firm cover drive and followed it with a six. Still, it wasn't the most fluent of his innings. He struggled to middle the ball in the beginning, there were edges, but with sheer dint of determination he pulled through.

In the ODI series against Sri Lanka this year, Dhoni has scores of 63, 45 n.o, 67 n.o, 49 n.o, 1 n.o and 65 for a total of 290 runs at an average of 145.00. Not to forget his peerless contributions with the gloves and regular support to the captains - be it Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma -- in setting the field.

Rohit put things in perspective on Sunday. "He has been in that situation so many times and he has proved himself again and again," he said. "First of all I never understood that whether there was talk of him being in our plans or not. Once he gets runs, the whole conversation changes. He showed us again."

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