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Dhoni’s last-ball six helps Pune end on a high

Wisden India logo Wisden India 21-05-2016

At the face of it, the 2016 Indian Premier League match between Rising Pune Supergiants and Kings XI Punjab in Visakhapatnam on Saturday (May 21) was of negligible importance. Both teams had been knocked out of the play-offs race with only the wooden spoon to avoid.

But there was a moment in Pune’s chase of 173, where Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s face clouded over in annoyance and you could tell that this definitely wasn’t a footnote of a game to him. With a stony-faced, unbeaten 64 from 32 balls, he took the side across the line, beating Punjab by four wickets, with two sixes off the last two balls when 12 runs were needed for victory.

Pune lost the toss but managed to keep Punjab to 172 for 7, courtesy R Ashwin’s four-for. But they seemed to lose the plot in the chase as the side slumped to 86 for 5, needing 87 from 40 balls with Dhoni and Thisara Perera at the crease. The Sri Lankan allrounded biffed a quick 23 off 14, but his dismissal at the start of the 19th over meant it was all up to Dhoni.

The equation became even tougher — 23 needed from the last over bowled by Axar Patel — and Dhoni, not willing to take a single to expose Ashwin, made allowance for a dot ball at the start. A wide and a booming six was followed by another dot, thanks to a brilliant save by Hashim Amla near the rope. The next ball was a four, but the fifth ball sailed over deep midwicket. A dog managed to get onto the field in the chaos, but Dhoni’s mind was completely uncluttered as he swung the last ball into the crowd too.

Pune’s innings started promisingly, but the wicket of Ajinkya Rahane, caught behind off a legslide delivery in the fourth over, seemed to derail the chase before it even started.

Pune lost George Bailey next, and then Usman Khawaja and Saurabh Tiwary let the run-rate dawdle. A pep talk from Stephen Fleming, one can only assume about the matter, instead backfired as they lost three wickets in the space of three overs.

Tiwary (17), who most of Fleming’s chat was directed to, slapped Gurkeerat Singh Mann for a six over deep midwicket, but then an attempt at another maximum simply ended up in the hands of the deep cover fielder. Two balls later, Khawaja tried an ill-advised slog sweep, offering an easy catch at deep midwicket. Irfan Pathan too joined the procession, skying the ball to Wriddhiman Saha behind the stumps. But Dhoni ensured there was a twist yet.

Earlier, M Vijay and Hashim Amla began steadily, and the two appeared to have struck the right chord as they took Deepak Chahar and Perera for 15 and 12 runs in the fifth and sixth over respectively.

It could’ve spelled trouble, but Pune managed to stem the flow of runs by bringing on the spin duo of Ashwin and Adam Zampa. Ashwin provided the first breakthrough, Amla sending it right down the throat of midwicket for 30 and in the next over, Saha was back in the hut, top-edging Zampa to Ashwin at slip.

Vijay and Gurkeerat assessed the situation quickly and realising that the boundaries weren’t going to be forthcoming, pushed for quick singles and twos. With Vijay taking a shine to Zampa, who had bowled all four overs on the trot, Dhoni returned to Ashwin.

And then something special happened. Ashwin produced his best figures the season: 4-0-34-4. A straight ball had Vijay bowled for 59 before Gurkeerat (51) and David Miller (7) followed close on his heels. With it, the Indian offspinner reached the landmark of 100 wickets in IPL.

Punjab folded fairly quickly thereafter and it allowed Dhoni to sign off on a winning note.

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