There may be a million reasons why skipper Virat Kohli is so gung-ho about his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Not the least would be the terrific way he batted on a drying pitch on Friday.
Kohli would obviously want to pack his team with as many match-winners as possible. While others, including himself, Shikhar Dhawan, Yuvraj Singh and Hardik Pandya could be hot-headed and prone to let passions take over, Dhoni is the exact opposite.
He is cool, calm and seemingly unruffled in most situations. There might be tremendous turbulence at play within. But to the world the image he presents is one of unbelievably calm exterior, matched by a deadpan expression. He gives the impression that he is in control of himself and the situation. This might unnerve the opposition but reassures his team mates.
Importantly Dhoni can get his bat to back that visage of his. He’s done it so many times that Kohli has the comfort of having a terrific back up to fall back on.
Of course Dhoni is only human and occasionally fails. But more often than not he is the man who will deliver the goods in a tight situation. It has been so for over 10 years and, as he proved on Friday against the West Indies in Antigua, he has lost nothing in terms of skill, temperament and hunger to pull the fat out of fire.
Strangely the only cricketer I can think of who comes close to Dhoni’s calm, deadpan approach to a task is young Karun Nair who isn’t even in the team. Of course Nair’s exploits are not a patch on Dhoni’s. But there is plenty of similarity in their temperament.
On Friday, the damp pitch almost brought the Indian team to its knees. Put in to bat, they lost early wickets; Dhawan for 2 and Kohli for 11. The ball was not coming on to the bat on a pitch that had a sort of spongy bounce. The West Indies pacers were able to seam on it and this posed questions.
The Indian batsmen took advantage whenever width was offered. But rest of the time progress was slow and painful. Even accomplished strokeplayers like Yuvraj Singh were confounded by the nature of the track.
This is where the classic approach of Dhoni came good. He had as company the dogged Ajinkya Rahane, who would have played on many a drying pitch during Mumbai’s monsoon league. The pair put their head down, eschewed big shots and concentrated on taking singles and twos.
Their no-frills, no-risk approach was in evidence for large parts of their 70-run fourth wicket stand in 16 overs. In fact at the start of the 41st over India, at 151 for 3, were going at less than four runs an over. Dhoni, though, had played himself in. His 29 off 52 deliveries had just one boundary. and he was thus well settled to launch into his trade mark finishing role.
And how well he pulled it off!
The pint-sized Kedar Jadhav too was in his elements and played some innovative shots to slam a quickfire 40 off 26 balls. Dhoni went one better. His last 27 deliveries fetched him 49 runs as the pair added a rollicking 81 runs in just 7.4 overs. The last 10 overs which yielded 100 runs virtually took the match away from the West Indies.
Dhoni may be just shy of 36 years of age. But there is no denying that he is still the best wicket-keeper batsman in Indian cricket. He is streets ahead of other aspirants and the manner in which he pulls off stumpings and catches in almost every match is proof that he still has plenty to offer to Indian cricket.
Of course Dhoni needs to take it one series at a time. He wisely decided to curtail his playing by calling it quits in Tests. This made sense for the round-the-year cricket that BCCI has lined up for its cricketers is bound to cause injuries and burn outs. Nobody in any sport can stay at his peak all year long, year after year. But that’s another matter altogether.
Dhoni, by concentrating on only limited overs cricket would be able to prolong his career. Barring injury or other fitness issues he should be able to dominate the game till the World Cup in two years time. And that should be some consolation for skipper Kohli who sees in Dhoni an entire support system by himself!