On Thursday night, with Rising Pune Supergiant requiring 18 runs off 10 balls to win against Mumbai Indians, MS Dhoni, not playing as a captain for the first time in IPL history, was on strike. Had this been any T20 game before 2015, the man would have despatched the bowler for two-three big hits, sealed the game and walked away, stump under his arm. But over the next two balls, Dhoni pulled and missed and then swung and missed.
Along with the changes in IPL stumps (that have LED lights now, which is why players have been forbidden from carrying them away), Dhoni’s jersey colour and the grey hair in his beard, something more fundamental has changed — his rate of finishing off close games.
At the other end stood Steve Smith, who in the past 24 months of the shifting tectonic plates of cricket, has emerged as the finest batsman, and like Dhoni used to be, a shrewd leader. In the final over, with 13 runs to get, he launched two sixes and won the game after Dhoni had mistimed two more pulls.
Minutes after the game ended, Rising Pune Supergiant owner Sanjeev Goenka's brother Harsh Goenka tweeted this:
Ouch! My sources have revealed that Goenka’s say-it-like-it-is tone has by now claimed a toll of hundreds of Dhoni fans’ feelings but as I know them to be way sporty than an average Khan fan, let me stick my neck out and say that he’s right. Goenka is only holding apples against apples here – and stating that at this point in the jungle, Smith is better than Dhoni. As a team owner, it is his prerogative to pick the best leader for his team, and he did so, rightly not being emotional about how Dhoni has given India its finest wins in the past decade. On Thursday night, he only stood vindicated, and tweeted perhaps as a response to the rants his team received after handing over captaincy from Dhoni to Smith.
Let’s face it, Smith is, in more departments than just finishing off games, ahead of Dhoni and at the rate at which he is going, is poised for greater glory.
Both Smith and Dhoni are unorthodox right-handers, both not quite pleasing to the eye as their repertoires lack Tendulkar-esque cover drives or Waugh-esque back-and-forth cuts. Both of them stand, shuffle and wham the ball hard. Like Dhoni in his prime (yes, it’s time to use that phrase now), Smith accelerates without warning, picks gaps that don’t exist and like Thursday night, targets bowlers to get a job done.
But unlike Dhoni, whose unorthodoxy and lack of a few vital batting skill-sets left him exposed in Tests, Smith has been phenomenal in the longer format. At age 27, he has played only half of Dhoni’s career Tests and scored more runs. Smith has Test centuries against all Test-playing nations except Bangladesh, and half of his tons, including his highest score, have come outside of home. That’s a place MSD will never reach.
As for ODIs, Smith’s average of 43.67 in his 95 games so far is astoundingly similar to what Dhoni’s was at 95 games. Both men ascended to captaincy at the early age of 26, and while Dhoni proved to be an astute tactician while being India’s finest wicket-keeper, Smith looks set to break MSD’s captaincy records in the decade to come. He has, after all, a batting average that touches 60 across formats and to his disposal, limited overs firebrands such as David Warner and Mitchell Starc.
To be fair, Dhoni isn’t in the race of modern day greatness any longer, for his peak of holding the World Cup, Champions Trophy and the Test supremacy mace has been done with. On the other hand, Smith is in the thick of it, and alongside with his ‘former’ friend Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root, is set to scale career peaks in the coming two years or so, which have another Champions Trophy and World Cup on the table.
For this summer though, much to the ire of the legions of Dhoni’s fans, Smith is truly the king of the jungle right now. At the same time, one hopes Dhoni’s bat roars in disagreement this IPL and then at the Champions Trophy.
Updated Date: Apr 07, 2017 18:16 PM