India’s MS Dhoni celebrates hitting the winning runs against Australia during their one-day international cricket match in Adelaide, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Source: AP Photo)

At the post-match presentation in Adelaide, Virat Kohli tried to provide an insight into MS Dhoni’s chase formula, eventually giving up and admitting that the team’s senior-most member has a mind of his own. “He (Dhoni) takes the game till the end, but only he knows what’s going on in his mind; he calculates the game so well. He backs himself to hit those big shots when required,” said the skipper after setting up the series-levelling win with his 39th ODI hundred.

Kohli getting the Man of the Match award was a formality. Dinesh Karthik, too, deserved special mention for his cameo at the death, which apart from easing up the equation for India, took the pressure off Dhoni as well. At the end, though, the visitors revelled in Dhoni’s return as a finisher. The former captain scored 55 not out off 54 balls.

Dhoni came to the crease on 160/3 after 30.4 overs. A patchy Ambati Rayuduknock was pegging India back, irrespective of Kohli’s free flow at the other end. Glenn Maxwell was bowling for Australia, providing India with an opportunity to score some quick runs. But like his innings at the SCG, Dhoni got stuck initially.

This was where Kohli’s game management came to the fore. By then, he was well past his half-century and dominating the bowling. He shielded Dhoni, while upping the ante with a four and a six in the 34th over bowled by Jason Behrendorff.

Kohli’s gear-shift gave Dhoni the required breathing space. Kohli then attacked Nathan Lyon, taking a four and a six against the frontline off-spinner. But the highlight of the Kohli-Dhoni partnership, that added 82 runs for the fourth wicket, was the running between the wickets. They like to bat together because both are excellent judges of a run and super-fast. At 37 years of age, Dhoni remains one of the quickest in this Indian team, even after ‘keeping for 50 overs in energy-sapping heat. They ensured that the asking rate always remained under nine runs per over. Kohli hit just five fours and two sixes in the 112 balls he faced. Dhoni’s innings had only two maximums.

Onus on Dhoni

When Kohli got out for 104 in the 44th over, India still had 57 runs to get off 38 balls. Dhoni was on 25 off 34 deliveries then. The onus was on him to take India home. Dhoni targeted Lyon, who bowled the 45th over. A six and a couple of twos brought down the asking rate. Karthik chipped in with two boundaries and India had matters under control.

Even in the penultimate over, he pushed Karthik for a third run before sending Behrendorff five rows back into the stands over long-on off the first ball off the final over.

It needs to be seen how Dhoni approaches the task when the target is bigger and asking rate steeper. Also, if he still can be the leading man in a chase rather than the second fiddle that he was here for the most part. After the first ODI, Rohit Sharma had spoken about how Dhoni’s batting could be more suited at No. 4.

Kohli, however, wants him at No. 5, because after a strong opening pair and he himself at one drop, the skipper prefers a utility batsman, rather than a big hitter. And on Tuesday, Kohli ended all speculation over Dhoni’s future, with the World Cup approaching, as he said at the presentation: “There’s no doubt that he should be a part of this team. When you haven’t played so much cricket, you take a bit of time to get back into the groove, and tonight was an MS classic.”


By Loknath

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