Calm Dhoni proves a point


The former India all-rounder proclaimed that experience was something that couldn’t be bought or sold in a market place. No praise can be too high for the manner in which Dhoni remained unruffled and guarded and encouraged Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who eventually outscored his former captain, to help India survive a mighty scare.

If Dhoni’s detractors thought it was a one-off occurrence at this stage of his career when such finishing acts have become increasingly less in numbers, Dhoni repeated his act in the third ODI, although in a relatively less chaotic situation.

Indeed, an experience of 300 matches -- Thursday’s fourth match of the series will be Dhoni’s 300th ODI -- can’t be bought from a shop. Even as for and against debates on the merits of Dhoni’s presence in the team rage on among pundits and commoners alike in TV studios and social media, the man himself stays far removed from all the noise and clutter around his continuation till the 2019 World Cup in England.

On Thursday, he will become the sixth Indian player to have played 300 ODIs after Sachin Tendulkar (463), Rahul Dravid (340), Mohammad Azharuddin (334), Sourav Ganguly (308) and Yuvraj Singh (304). Dhoni, in fact, will become only the second wicketkeeper-batsman in the world after Kumar Sangakkara (404) to reach the milestone.

And all things being equal, Dhoni can displace Adam Gilchrist as the second highest run-getter among keeper-batsmen and Mark Boucher as a stumper with third highest dismissals (see statistics box).

It’s a monumental accomplishment by any stretch of imagination, and that a small-town boy with no real cricketing pedigree has achieved it, makes it even more special. In Dhoni’s cricketing CV, this may not be his biggest feat though. He has won the World Cup (2011), Champions Trophy (2013), World T20 (2007) and also helmed the Test team that became No 1 for the first time since the introduction of rankings by the ICC. That being said, the number 300 is a fitting tribute to his longevity and sustained success for almost 13 years of gruelling international cricket which also includes 90 Tests and 77 T20Is.

While Dhoni’s Test batting record is good without being extraordinary, his ODI batting credentials are second to none. He is easily one of world’s best one-day batsmen of all time and arguably the finest finisher the game has ever seen in this format. The last two one-day internationals against Sri Lanka only drove home the point that form is temporary and class is permanent.

While his batting box is ticked, is he still India’s best wicketkeeper? A definite yes, when it comes to limited-overs cricket. He may not be your classically-moulded, easy-on-the-eye stumper but few have been as effective. That he has taken 61 matches less to effect a joint world-record 99 stumpings than Sangakkara (he took 360) is an indicator of his quick reflexes and unmatched skills with the big gloves that are often masked because of his unorthodox style.

With time, team’s priorities differ, roles change and requirements come in different shapes and sizes. The new team management constantly harps on high fitness standards for players, intends to assign a particular task to each player in the core it intends to develop for the World Cup and at the same time expects them to be flexible according to team’s demands. The question is does Dhoni fit into these scheme of things? And the answer to that is an emphatic yes again. If anything, he looks more assured and exudes a quiet confidence. The clam influence that he has on the team has never been more obvious.

Dhoni the captain has effortlessly slipped into Dhoni the mentor and it adds a different dynamic to the team. The bowlers trust and value his inputs on their lines and lengths to different batsmen, skipper Virat Kohli is constantly in discussion with him about field settings and none can be more reliable when it comes to taking DRS. These are only a few additional values accumulated over years of experience that he brings to the table apart from his main tasks of batting and wicketkeeping.

Fielding coach R Sridhar was asked the other day about Dhoni’s usefulness to the team as a package and his answer was “invaluable”. That’s the word.

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