Dhoni has mastered the Houdini act

Dhoni has mastered the Houdini act

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 16, 2012 07:18 hrs
Dhoni earns India thrilling tie with Sri Lanka

The great finisher. It was a title that was conferred on Michael Bevan. The torch was then passed over to Michael Hussey. But no one is more deserving of it right now than Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Indian captain is a master at pacing an innings and shaping an unlikely victory in ODIs. He has done it so many times over the years that perhaps it is no more a surprise.

And yet when he skillfully and with clinical precision mixes the singles and twos with the timely big hits, he is a joy to watch for both the average spectator and the connoisseur of the game. For, besides being entertaining there is something scientific and methodical about his batting as he steers his team to the winning post - or as he did in Adelaide on Tuesday to an even more unbelievable result, a tie.

His image as a Test captain might have taken a beating but in limited overs cricket, Dhoni is still the leader who can do little wrong. Sure a little bit of luck has to be involved but too much should not be made of the good fortune factor. On the contrary he should be given credit for repeating the Houdini act over and over again.

It must be remembered that he is right now under tremendous pressure. Losing seven successive Tests abroad has made him the target of much abuse. He himself has admitted that he is the main culprit and has taken the responsibility since the buck stops with the captain and no one else, not the players who have failed or a coach who has not delivered.

But he has never let that pressure affect his performance. The very fact that he has the best record among all players when it comes to successful run chases emphasizes the point that he is a match winning batsman in limited overs cricket.

His batting carries a lot of punch particularly in the manner in which he converts singles into twos and twos into threes. His running between wickets is positively frenetic and the younger players would do well to emulate him in this very important but sadly neglected aspect of limited overs cricket.

The sobriquet 'Captain Cool' has always remained with Dhoni and on the field he is indeed calm and controlled in his demeanor. In a day and age when players go highly overboard in their reactions - sometimes bordering on the outrageous or obscene - Dhoni is almost like a monk.

He is phlegmatic and nothing seems to disturb him, be it victory or defeat. He is the closest we have to treating Rudyard Kipling's twin imposters - triumph and disaster - with the same sage-like equitable temperament. There is no show of emotion and whatever he might feel under the surface - joy or anger - he keeps it well camouflaged.

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Perhaps in a way this is responsible for Dhoni's outstanding record in ODIs. Not many batsmen have an average of fifty plus in this format and when it is coupled with a strike rate of 88.32, it constitutes an unbeatable combination. And this is not after playing a limited number of games. The Adelaide game against Sri Lanka was the Indian captain's 200th ODI. Seven hundreds and 44 half centuries embellish the figures further.

The closest to this awe inspiring record is Hussey's. The Aussie fighter supreme has played 168 ODIs, his average and strike rate (87.97) is fractionally below Dhoni's and he has hit three hundreds and 35 half centuries. Bevan of course belonged to an earlier generation and so his strike rate of 74.16 must be viewed with sympathy. And yet he averaged over 53 with six hundreds and 46 half centuries in 232 ODIs.

The cynics might say that Dhoni while pacing his innings leaves it too late at times but when the man himself is confidence personified that the target will be reached later if not sooner little more need be said. And he has proved it time and again. Against Australia at Adelaide, he started very slowly, then accelerated and at the right time struck the big blows. Moreover as he has rightly said he does not have the luxury of batsmen behind him.

Looking back on the tri-series matches so far, he has received very little support from the middle and late order batsmen and has generally had to control the run flow on his own steam. Also Dhoni is aware of the importance of having wickets in hand when going for a run chase. If batsmen keep getting dismissed at regular intervals, it makes the task that much more difficult.

The critics might carp about his technique or lack of it. What matters is that in his own manner - call it unorthodox or unusual or anything else - Dhoni is able to keep scoring runs and whittle the equation down in a tight run chase. On closer scrutiny there is a lot about strategy and tactics in his batting approach and this sees him take India past the target in finishes that are not for weak hearts. Who can argue against his enormously successful record in this aspect?

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