New Delhi: When Mahendra Singh Dhoni walks out to bat during chases, the Indian cricket fan is relieved and reassured. Why not, Dhoni has been one of the most prolific finishers in the history of one-day international cricket.
Dhoni averages a whopping 50.54 in 119 innings while chasing, and has scored 3993 runs at a strike-rate of 82.91. What is staggering though is that Dhoni has won all of his 20 'Man of the Match' awards whenever India has batted second. Further shedding light on the fact that MSD is without doubt the best in the business in chases.
But the Dhoni of old has been missing for a while. The Dhoni whom we see today isn't as deadly and clinical as he used to be. A prime example of that was his innings against New Zealand at the Feroz Shah Kotla in the 2nd one-day international, which India lost by 6 runs.
At the time when Dhoni came into bat, India were 3 wickets down for 72 runs in 18.4 overs while chasing a target of 243 runs. The asking rate was around six runs an over and the pitch wasn't the easiest to bat on. Wickets kept tumbling but Dhoni kept going at one end.
The Indian captain looked patchy as he failed to connect bat with ball on several occasions. Dhoni was dismissed for 39 when Tim Southee took a brilliant one handed return catch of his own bowling. Dhoni had consumed 65 deliveries by then. India's score was 172 for 6 in 39.3 overs. The asking rate was now above 7 runs an over.
It is known that Dhoni often takes time to settle in as he backs himself to clear the ropes later in the innings. But that is something which is not happening off late.
"I feel this was one game where we lost wickets against the run of play, it was not that the deliveries were good, we just kept losing wickets," Dhoni said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
But the reality is that the Indian captain is struggling. It has been 3 years since Dhoni last hit an ODI century. His unbeaten 139 against Australia at Mohali on October 19th 2013, was the last time Dhoni had crossed the three figure mark
Add to that the fact that Dhoni who averages above 50 in his ODI career has managed to score just 1204 in 34 innings at an average of 41.51 since January 2014. The numbers aren't bad, but they aren't Dhoni-esque.
Here are 3 occasions when the Indian captain has flattered to deceive while batting second in the last couple of years.
1) 39 runs off 65 balls vs New Zealand, New Delhi, October 2016
India were chasing a modest Kiwi total of 242 runs. Dhoni came into bat after the top order had failed to take India beyond the 100-run mark. Dhoni, in his usual style, took his time and tried to take the match into the last 5 overs after which he could launch himself. The captain though perished in the 40th over and his slow approach meant the tailenders had too much to do.
2) 31 runs off 30 balls vs South Africa, Kanpur, October 2015
A Rohit Sharma special had put India in the driver's seat while chasing 304 against South Africa in the first ODI at Kanpur. Dhoni took the match into the final over but failed to take the team across the line as he was dismissed by young Kagiso Rabada. What was peculiar about the innings is that Dhoni failed to find the boundaries when the team needed them the most. His 30-ball knock had just one boundary, which meant the South Africans managed to keep the pressure on the Indian batsmen.
3) 47 runs off 67 balls vs South Africa, Rajkot, October 2015
Dhoni's masterful batting in the second ODI against South Africa had allowed India to level the series. India though were chasing again in the third ODI at Rajkot. 271 was the target and the pitch was taking turn. Dhoni along with Kohli kept India in the game. But the skipper once again was not finding the boundaries. Dhoni was dismissed in the 42nd over. By the time he had got out, the asking rate had reached the 10 runs per over mark. India lost the match by 18 runs.