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Probably Dhoni should start bowling now, in order to re-invent himself and stay in the team

EVERY FORMER Indian great at some point in their career has come under heavy criticism from the media and arm-chair

                                         Photo: IANS

pundits. Today, the India ODI & T20 captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni finds himself in a similar situation and is being hounded by views from former cricketers and fans on how he can bring more value to the current one-day team. Some are even boldly asking if Dhoni’s days in the Indian team are numbered?

Ever since the charismatic wicket-keeper batsman made a resounding entry into limited overs cricket by producing a couple of swash-buckling innings against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Dhoni was bestowed the duty of depositing the balls frequently into the stands. Moreover, Dhoni’s ability to win matches from the brink further earned him the tag of a “finisher”. Moreover, Dhoni’s spectacular six for winning the 2011 World Cup final has remained etched in the memory of all Indian cricket fans.

But as the old adage goes: The average memory of an Indian cricket fan is short.  Any fleeting lapse or drop in the performance will invariably draw flak from the fans and nay-sayers. And, Dhoni’s failure to win the first ODI, in the last over against a rookie South African pacer at Kanpur has come under the microscope.

For someone who has been one of the greatest finishers in limited overs cricket over a decade, is it fair to judge Dhoni on one unsuccessful finish? Or has the ability while chasing diminished over a period of time? Or is it simply a case of assessing Dhoni’s match winning ability based on a few recent performances in the ODIs?

Whatever the reason be, I vehemently feel that Dhoni has got a raw deal. The whole saga of Dhoni not being able to construct a fairy-tale finish anymore stems from the 2015 IPL, where the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) skipper was unable to anchor the chase on quite a few occasions. Yet again, it justifies how much importance is given to a domestic T20 league and how frivolously international cricket opinions are framed.

If you consider the recent-past ODI performances, prior to the first ODI at Kanpur, Dhoni has scored (5, 47, and 69) against Bangladesh in what was a disaster three-match series for India. Sure, Dhoni got out cheaply in the first game, but India were already 5 down at 130 and never in a position to chase the mammoth score of 300 plus. In the next two games, the Indian skipper scored 47 and 69 batting first.

Going back to the 2015 World Cup, Dhoni again found himself in a position where he had no support from the team, yet managed to score a run-a-ball 67 in the semis, losing to the eventual champions Australia. But how many of you remember the crucial, match-winning partnership of Suresh Raina (110*) and Dhoni (85*) against Zimbabwe in the group stages? To throw more light on Dhoni’s contribution, India was in a spot of bother at 90/4 chasing a decent score of 288.

Going further back to New Zealand, at the start of 2014. Dhoni had scores of 40, 56, 50, 79*, and 47. Barring the only failure in the first ODI, Dhoni, in the following match, got the visitors in a commanding position, only to be denied by rain.  And then in the third game was instrumental with Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin helping India tie the game.

Sure, there were a few instances where Dhoni could have done better, but didn’t the entire line-up falter over the past nine months? Also, one must take notice of how many times Dhoni was left stranded in the middle.

But be that as it may, we move on to the current debate of what is Dhoni’s role in the team? And, where should he be batting? Well, the truth is, for the past 5-6 years, Dhoni has consistently played the role of a floater in the batting order to a nicety. Besides winning matches while chasing, we have also witnessed Dhoni finish the innings with a mighty flourish while setting up a target. And, what about one of the finer aspects of batting: running between the wickets? Well, any ardent follower of the game will know that Dhoni has been arguably one of the very best runners in world cricket. His judgment of a run too is exemplary and rare!

That said, the critics have gone hammer and tongs at the dwindling ability of Dhoni to clear the ropes at will. But, any sane cricket observer will know, that you don’t need records and statistics to drive home a point that some of the best finishers in ODI cricket are those who can maneuver balls regularly into the gaps, run swiftly between the wickets and when the situation demands, go for glory!

Even today, the Indian skipper has all the above mentioned qualities and is well equipped to win India games, regardless of his promotion or demotion in the batting order. A few former cricketers have also blatantly argued on how Dhoni has lost his Midas touch. Let’s not forget, Dhoni has a staggering average of 52 in over 260 matches and still continues to score at a brisk pace. The brute power and those helicopter shots might have vanished momentarily, but he still remains as one of the pillars of Indian batting, regardless of the conditions.

Even today, his agility and craftiness behind the wickets cannot be overlooked. As far as switching positions goes, former greats in Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, and Rahul Dravid have all done it depending on the teams’ requirements. Dhoni too will be mindful of it and when required, will make the change. But to question Dhoni’s value and his future in the game would a little too irrational and premature.

All sporting greats have gone through a lull period and at times looked a mere shadow of themselves. Moreover, being compared to himself/herself is the bane of every great player.

That said, going by our antecedents, every celebrated Indian cricketer has gone through a lean patch and has been given an extended run to silence the critics. Legends across eras have all experienced a gloomy period, but re-invented themselves masterfully when presented with another opportunity. In days to come, the Indian cricket fans and care-takers of the game will do just well to leave the great man sort out his own method and way of delivering. Like he has been doing so handsomely over the years. Except asking him to bowl, since that is the only thing he hasn't done succesfully till now for India!

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