Dhoni the finisher comes to the fore

Cool, calm and calculated, the Chennai Super Kings' skipper has fashioned two incredible wins for his team, the flame to succeed burning ever so brightly in the twilight of a stellar career.

Over the last few years plenty of obituaries have been written about Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Dhoni has become old, Dhoni can’t hit those sixes as he used to during his pomp, Dhoni is not consistent enough etc. Talks kept cropping up after every failure. But like true greats of the game, every time the critics raise their voices, Dhoni uses his bat to silence them all.

This IPL has seen the 36-year-old return to his best. Cool, calm and calculated, the Chennai Super Kings' skipper has fashioned two incredible wins for his team, the flame to succeed burning ever so brightly in the twilight of a stellar career.

Both those heroic performances — an unbeaten 79 against Kings XI Punjab and a 70 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore — are wonderful case studies for any young cricketer on how to finish off matches when the chips are down.

Against Kings XI Punjab, chasing 198 for victory, Dhoni came in with his team at a dicey 56/3 in the seventh over. The veteran quickly figured out his modus operandi, first stabilising the innings along with Ambati Rayudu and then later laying the siege on bowlers who he knew would be vulnerable. Despite battling a bad back that saw him receive on-field treatment, Dhoni hardly flinched, instead essaying a 44-ball knock studded with six fours and five sixes to single-handedly power CSK closer to victory but not quite. “The back is pretty bad, but god has given me lot of power and I don't need to use my back a lot. My arms can do the job!” Dhoni remarked then at the post-match presentation.

In the high-profile game against RCB on Wednesday, Dhoni arrived at the crease with his team at a precarious 74/4 while chasing a daunting target of 206. He didn’t waste much time, smacking the second ball he faced off Pawan Negi for a huge six over deep midwicket. In fact Dhoni was in a murderous mood right from that shot during his 34-ball stay. He hammered a total of seven sixes, all of them brutal.

While it was a total massacre of the toothless RCB bowling, it was exceptional calculated hitting from Dhoni and his partner in crime Rayudu. The duo chose to play out in-form bowlers Yuzvendra Chahal and Umesh Yadav and then tore into the rest of the pack who didn’t know what struck them. Dhoni carted Pawan Negi and Corey Anderon for three sixes each, quickly picking their lengths and destroying them mentally. Mohammed Siraj, a young bowler, was so nervous that he ended up bowling three consecutive wides in the before finishing the penultimate over, afraid to land the ball anywhere close to Dhoni after being hit for a six in the fifth ball.

“What's important in a chase is to know which bowler has how many left and who the captain will bowl when and you play accordingly,” Dhoni said after the RCB game. “You will win some, you'll lose some but the job of the finisher is to finish the job and help others, sharing the experience with others, all those things really matter because I may not (be) batting tomorrow.”

Coach Stephen Fleming, who has seen many Dhoni specials, said his captain never ceases to amaze. “We've got players here who're absolutely gobsmacked the way in which he's finished that game. His ability to let balls go for wide, the presence of mind to be staying in the now. It never ceases to amaze. I think in this IPL his batting has been excellent, his innings was one of the best ones I've seen.”

Dhoni, like he has so often done in the past, came with a plan and executed it to perfection. He has proven there’s still gas remaining inside his battered body.

 

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Dhoni the finisher comes to the fore

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