It has been fascinating watching Mahendra Singh Dhoni bat for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in this season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). It would be fair to say that it is after a very long time that the man has looked so confident and assured out in the middle. The strokes have flowed naturally and the sixes deposited into the stands have had more power. Perhaps it is because he feels at home with his old franchise or maybe it is because he knows that youngsters are breathing down his neck. Whatever may be the case, overall, this has felt like an updated version of MS Dhoni; a Dhoni 2.0 if you will.
Granted that this is the IPL and not international cricket, but one cannot deny that the quality of his runs has been first rate. He has been punishing the likes of Trent Boult, Rashid Khan and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar with great authority and the power he has generated in his shots has been a delight to watch. This is only the third time that Dhoni has crossed the 400-run mark in the IPL and at 36 years of age when the man is almost at the twilight of his career, that is no mean feat.
What is also interesting is that Dhoni appears to have ironed out quite a few chinks in his armour – the inability to rotate the strike against spin being the most significant of them. Also, he has been striking it at well above 160 this season and finishing the games almost flawlessly. He has looked to dominate from the word go and by regularly giving the team that fillip with his scintillating efforts, has been one of the reasons for Chennai’s super success in IPL 2018.
So can we assume, based on an IPL performance in one season – where the pitches are relatively flat and boundaries are ridiculously small – that MS Dhoni is really back to his best? Are we seeing the birth of Dhoni 2.0? Or is it too early to be excited right now?
Why should we ignore Pant and Samson for Dhoni?
Not too long back, critics had been baying for Dhoni’s blood and for good reason too. Dhoni’s form for India in limited overs cricket has been inconsistent over the past couple of years. While he has scored runs, he has failed to finish close games for India on several occasions and has often looked out of sorts and out of touch in the middle. What has really stuck out as a sore thumb has been his inability to rotate the strike in the middle when he is fresh at the crease and his tendency to consume way too many deliveries that puts pressure on the other batsmen. This habit of Dhoni’s has cost India dear on a few occasions in the recent past and has not gone down well with the fans.
With talented youngsters like Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson – both wicket-keeper batsmen of high quality – doing well it is only but natural that Dhoni’s place in the limited overs squad should be questioned. Why shouldn’t it? Both Pant and Samson are young, exceptionally talented and deserve to be brooded into the national team. Both have also done well in the ongoing IPL season, with Pant emerging as the leading run-scorer.
So should we disregard the form that the likes of Pant and Samson have displayed and go all wide-eyed with wonder at the one Dhoni has shown in the IPL?
This is certainly an interesting dilemma for the selectors to address considering Indian cricket’s immediate future. For now, both Pant and Samson have not been considered for India’s limited overs series in England later in the year. Dhoni, meanwhile, gets another opportunity.
Dhoni’s form on that England tour will be vital for two reasons. Firstly, it will tell us whether his IPL form actually meant something and if Dhoni truly has rediscovered himself. Secondly, it will also let us know whether Dhoni should be considered for the ICC 50-over World Cup next year that also happens to be in England.
Failure on this tour should result in some tough and uncomfortable questions being asked. And no one – even the hardcore Dhoni supporter – should back away from it.
But that is an issue to be addressed another day. For now, one should relish this new and improved Dhoni in the IPL.
Riding into the sunset with his head held high
Whether an IPL form should be taken seriously or not, there is no denying MS Dhoni looks fighting fit today – fitter than most in the present Indian team. Also, he brings a lot of value to the limited overs team, even without his batting.
Dhoni, the wicket-keeper, is one of the best in the world currently and his expertise behind the stumps is of great significance to the Indian team. In the last few limited overs series, it has been seen how Dhoni has been guiding the young bowlers with great precision – asking them to bowl the precise lengths required for a particular batsman and constantly egging them on when they fail to do so. While captain Kohli has been manning the boundaries, Dhoni has been setting the fields with perfection and the results have shown.
All this comes with experience which MS Dhoni has in plenty. So while Team India may not need Dhoni the batsman, but it still requires Dhoni the senior and experienced cricketer – the man with more than 15000 international runs as a batsman and three ICC trophies as a captain – in its ranks for a little more time. And that is why investing in Dhoni, at least till the next 50-over World Cup, is a prudent idea; especially with the fitness and form he has exhibited of late. Now only if he can reproduce the form he showed in the IPL for the national team, things would fall into place perfectly for Indian cricket.
MS Dhoni is almost 37 years of age and one can feel that he won’t be around much longer now. Thankfully, India’s most successful captain-finisher is not crawling towards his end. MS Dhoni is riding into the sunset with his head and bat held high. And along the way, if he can keep giving us some glimpses of his vintage self, then it would make bidding him adieu a genuinely satisfying experience.