Indian summer for Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni plays a pull shot during his innings-save knock against Sri Lanka yesterday. (AP)
Updated 11 December 2017
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Indian summer for Dhoni

BANGALORE: If a sporting career was viewed as a bucket list with items to tick off — and let’s be clear that most sportspeople don’t see it that way — then Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s pen would have run dry.
In 2009, his second full year as Test captain, he led India to the No.1 ranking. And by the time he handed over leadership in the white-ball formats to Virat Kohli last January, he had swept the board — the World Twenty20 in 2007, the World Cup in 2011, and the Champions Trophy in 2013.
Dhoni walked away from Test cricket after the Boxing Day game in Melbourne in 2014. He had received few bouquets and many brickbats as India’s form had slumped following that World Cup triumph. Legends made way, and those that came in took time to find their feet. In that transition phase, India were routed 4-0 in Test series in both England and Australia.
But as patchy as limited-overs form might have been in bilateral series, India invariably turned up at the big events. And Dhoni’s nous was a big part of that. Whether it was guiding the bowlers from behind the stumps, or giving DRS advice to Kohli, the new leader, it didn’t take long for the new captain-coach combinations — it was Kohli and Anil Kumble in January, it is Kohli and Ravi Shastri now — to decide that he still had much to offer.
Between the slickness of his wicket-keeping and the accolades that his captaincy has won, Dhoni the batsman has often been overlooked. In the 50-over format, the numbers brook no argument. He has been one of the titans of the ODI game, scoring 9,891 runs at 51.78. The strike-rate of 88.43 is comparable to the best.
In other circumstances, without the twin burdens of keeping and captaincy, Dhoni might have been a top-order great. He averaged 82.75 from 16 innings at No.3 — including his highest score of 183 not out — and 58.23 from 26 innings at No.4.
But the bulk of his runs have come from No.6, which is where he finds himself now, tasked either with providing the finishing flourish, or with resuscitating an innings in decay. There is little doubt that he is now more suited for the second role. Dhoni is not an AB de Villiers or Jos Buttler that he can walk in and tee off from the first ball he faces. He likes to take his time, gauge the conditions, and construct an innings. In high-scoring matches, that is a high-risk strategy that relies heavily on catching up once he is set. It also puts a lot of pressure on the batsmen at the other end.
On a bad day, such as the one India had in Dharamsala yesterday, the Dhoni method works perfectly. The scoreboard showed 16 for 4 when he arrived at the crease. He scored two off the first 18 balls he faced, as India slumped to an embarrassing 29 for 7. Thereafter, with the tail for company, he was in his element, manipulating the strike and unveiling the big hits at regular intervals. In an innings where the others managed just seven fours between them, Dhoni struck ten fours and two huge sixes. He was last man out, for 65 off 87 balls, with the total having been boosted to 112.
For India, the worrying thing is the lack of alternatives. Dinesh Karthik can keep wicket, but plays as a batsman. In 66 innings spread over 13 years, he averages less than 30. Rishabh Pant, part of the side that reached the Under-19 World Cup final in 2016, made waves last season, but has struggled for consistency this term. Sanju Samson, once touted as an alternative, is only just back among the runs.
In conditions like India encountered in Dharamsala, when the new ball seams around prodigiously, Dhoni’s unorthodox technique is often remarkably effective. In the innings defeats at Old Trafford and The Oval in 2014, as the rest of the batsmen were blown away by Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, it was Dhoni that was top scorer, trusting his eye and playing as late as possible.
On typical Asian pitches where scores well in excess of 300 have become the norm, Dhoni the batsman can struggle to impose himself. But when scoring runs becomes a battle, he’s still one of the go-to men. In the high altitude of Dharamsala, with Kohli away preparing for a Tuscan wedding and the newer faces clueless against the kind of lateral movement usually associated with the English summer, Dhoni illustrated just why he remains a vital cog in the ODI machine.


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 18 September 2018
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India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.