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Keep calm and trust MSD – one final time

Wisden India logo Wisden India 22-01-2016

The wait to watch an Indian cricket team, and MS Dhoni, play at MCG is finally over.

I tried my best to get deputed to Australia for work last year, so that I could cheer for Dhoni and his men during the World Cup. That didn’t work out, which meant that I had to do my bit sitting in front of my television set in India.

When I eventually made it to Australia in April, I was aware of this tour and this game at MCG. How could I miss it! I booked the tickets for this game five months ago – a seat under the sun as close to the action as possible.

Yes, it was not a World Cup game. But it had a certain drama attached.

Dhoni was coming to Australia after losing series against South Africa and Bangladesh. He was coming to Australia with Virat Kohli, the leader whose stocks are rising with every passing day, in the team. He was coming to Australia with his batting and leadership powers not quite what they used to be. He was coming to Australia after a not so impressive domestic outing with Jharkhand, even though that was a matter of little interest.

And, after the first two games of the series, he was coming to Melbourne 2-0 down. A third consecutive series defeat loomed large. Would he be able to cast a spell? Could he once again become the golden man of Indian cricket?

***

On match day – Sunday (January 17) – I was preparing banners in the morning at home. One of them read ‘Keep Calm and Trust MSD’. My friend, who would accompany me to the game, laughed. “Dhoni’s magic and luck is over – no trust,” he said.

It was most probably the last time I would see Dhoni in the flesh in a One-Day International. Whatever my friend felt didn’t matter, because it was not hard to place your trust on a champion, more so when he was cornered.

***

Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane forged a crucial 109-run partnership in the afternoon before the stage was set for a typical Dhoni assault. With 34 balls left, Dhoni walked into the colosseum with sword in hand. The sword had ‘Spartan’ written on it.

Much had been said in the press in the lead up to the game, especially about the need to score more than India had done in Perth and Brisbane. It was time for Dhoni to lead the way. He had failed in the first two games – this time, he just couldn’t.

“Dhoniiiiiii! Dhoniiiiiii! Dhoniiiiiii!” I screamed, banners held up.

“All it’s going to take is just one ball, mate,” an elderly Australian fan sitting next to me said.

Ball one: Single. Dhoni packed all his power into the shot but didn’t connect well.


“More than one ball now, definitely,” I told my co-spectator.

“Okay. Out second ball,” he said.

I raised my pitch: “Dhoniiiiiii! Dhoniiiiiii! Dhoniiiiiii!”

Ball Two: Six. Out it went. Smashed over the deep midwicket region. Clearly, the connection was better.

Ball Three: Wide. James Faulkner tried to bowl it as wide as possible outside off stump, but missed the line.

“See, Faulkner is so scared to put the ball anywhere near Dhoni. He knows if it is in the arc it is out of the park,” I announced. It was received with laughs around. The Australian fans were waiting to have the final word but it wasn’t going to happen for a few more minutes as Dhoni lay into Faulkner and John Hastings.

Ball Four: Four. By that ball, Dhoni was on top gear. A low full toss was smashed piercing the extra-cover region.

Ball Five: Single.

Ball Six: Single.

By then, he had lost Kohli and Gurkeerat Singh Mann. Ravindra Jadeja joined him in the 49th over. It was an all Chennai Super Kings affair: Jadeja and Dhoni in the middle and Hastings was running in.

Ball Seven: Dot. A wild swing without contact.

Ball Eight: Four. The short-of-a-length delivery wasn’t going to be missed again. Dhoni powered it with a pull courtesy steely resolve, strong forearms and fast swinging wrists.

Ball Nine: Six. Now … now this was vintage MSD! The shot resembled that most memorable six from the 2011 World Cup final, with the way his bat swing ended and where his front foot was. Power. Range. The stadium erupted – the Indian fans went ballistic.

I smelt victory right then and there as I looked at the Australian supporter sitting next to me in green and gold. I didn’t need to say a word. The Australians were looking for cover – 300 was definitely on cards.

Dhoni was back.

Ball Ten: Out. It was heaved to the midwicket region and Glenn Maxwell, positioned close to where we were seated, clung on.

There was relief among the home team fans, and a deep sense of satisfaction for thousands like me, who had made the visit to the ‘G’ just to watch our hero – possibly for the last time.

***

After claiming the wickets of Aaron Finch and Steven Smith, the Indian fans in the stands were buoyed. As George Bailey and Shaun Marsh begun the repair work, Dhoni was at his best yet again behind the stumps. The Melbourne crowd and Bailey were left dazzled by his quick reflexes.

The trust in MS continued to grow more and more among Indian fans, who were cheering every time I raised my Dhoni banner. He was controlling the game, for the first time on the tour. He set the right fields for Shaun Marsh and Maxwell, and Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma responded to the captain’s call with the ball.

Then, Dhoni was at his best again to get Mitchell Marsh out, an effort that was a throwback to the run out of AB de Villiers, with Umesh Yadav as his partner, at the same venue last year during the World Cup.

At every drinks break or fall of wicket, he got more vocal as the team huddled. There was more desperation. After a diving Dhoni stop behind the stumps off Ishant, the crowd went up in unison to cheer for their hero. Dhoni was fighting. India also were.

But, as the bowlers began leaking runs in the final stages of the game, Dhoni was searching for soldiers in his camp who he could bank upon to do the job. There weren’t any.

***

While Gurkeerat was bowling his offspinners, Kohli was at the boundary. I tried my best to reach out to him for his autograph. Kohli was far too involved in the tense game to pay heed.

The security guy asked me to return to my seat at the end of the over after Virat moved to the other end of the ground. As I settled onto my seat, my Australian friend asked, “You wanted to get an autograph from No. 2 and not from No. 1?”

“No. 1 is a dream, not a reality. I’m very happy that I have been able to watch him live and click photos of him in action at the glorious MCG. Anything more is a bonus,” I told him.

For an extremely noisy Indian crowd that had assembled at the MCG on Sunday, Dhoni provided fireworks with wood and wit. No wonder he is rated so highly in Australia, even if many don’t think him worth the while any more in his own country.

Watch: Disappointed Dhoni blames himself for Canberra heartbreak

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