In one of the matches in IPL 2013 MS Dhoni said that he loves it when the result of a game is decided in the penultimate or the last over, rather when it’s done and dusted in the 14th or the 15th over. Forget T20s, some way or the other, Dhoni finds himself exactly in the same situation in ODIs as well. Once again, in the tri-series final against Sri Lanka, the Indian skipper won a crucial game for India in the last over. While the Indian fans were on the verge of a heart-attack, captain cool lived up to the expectations and stunned the opposition with three brutal shots.
Indian middle-order got the team into trouble as they collapsed from 139/3 to 152/7 within a blink of an eye. Herath’s double-strike was a major blow as India still needed 50 runs from 12 overs. Dhoni was still there at the crease, and while he had got India to several spectacular finishes in the past, one could sense that the match had slipped from India’s hands the way Lankan bowlers bounced back.
The Indian fans had dozed off, and while most Indian players fell short of nails in the dressing room, an unperturbed Dhoni kept speaking to the tail-enders about what all they need not do. The strategy was simple. Dhoni was supposed to take most of the strike. But as he saw Vinay Kumar defending well against the pacers, he decided to show some more faith to boost his confidence. And that move backfired. With 21 required off 24, Dhoni took a single off the first ball in the 46th over and Vinay Kumar tried to show his batting skills and ended up hitting a short delivery to the slip cordon.
In came Ishant Sharma, who wanted a single off everything that hit his bat. He got lucky on two occasions as the Lankans couldn’t come up with a direct hit. 17 runs were needed off the last two overs, and Dhoni surprised everybody once again by taking a second run in the penultimate over which brought Ishant back to strike. In case if he had taken a single, Mahi would have had two more balls to play in the 49th over. But like always, he trusted his instincts. Sharma managed just two runs from it and the match headed towards Dhoni’s favourite moment of the game – The last over.
Sri Lanka had played a gamble by finishing off with Malinga’s spell. They could smell victory when Vinay Kumar was dismissed with India still needing 18 off 19 balls. Dhoni played Malinga’s entire over and didn’t expose Ishant as he did that to Bhuvneshwar Kumar who was dismissed by a brilliant yorker from the slinger. Thus Shaminda Eranga was given the responsibility to bowl the last over.
The pressure increased after Dhoni failed to connect with the first ball. But then the next three were clobbered for 6,4,6 as the Indian players came running on the field while Dhoni raised his hand in the air and went back to collect a stump, something he does after every Indian victory.
It was not for the first time that he had defused an opponent with his cool temperament. The Indian dressing room and even the tail-enders at the crease were seen panicking as MSD tried his best to speak to them. While we all were wondering whether he can or he can’t, once Dhoni slapped a six over wide of long-off for the winning runs, he made all of us look like fools for once again doubting his ability to deliver under pressure.
Not to forget, he wasn’t even supposed to play the final against Sri Lanka. But since it was the final, and Dhoni knew his services could be required, he once again not only played the game, but also soaked all the pressure and decimated the Lankans with yet another brutal assault. Cricket has seen some of the best finishers in the game, but it’s now time to debate whether the Indian skipper is one of the best ODI batsman of all time, if not the best.