Chennai : It is no exaggeration that players have happy hunting grounds, where the air spookily whispers their name in the ear of the opposition, every blade of grass reeks of their imperishable aura, and nearly everyone present reminisces heroics of the yore.
India were staring down the barrel at 64 for four, but the focus was not on the scoreboard, on the departing batsman or India’s struggles against the disciplined Australian bowling in the first ODI. Everything centered around Dhoni’s arrival in the middle, which was met with a roar from an otherwise reticent crowd at Chepauk. Not as raucous as the one Sachin Tendulkar commanded at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai. But warm, homely and sincere, like a mother’s hug. After all, since the suspension of Chennai Superkings and Dhoni’s retirement from Tests, the Chennai crowd has longed to see their favourite son in action.
Later, as India began to claw back into the contest and the sixth-wicket partnership between Dhoni – India’s greatest finisher, and Hardik Pandya – his potential successor, grew, so did the decibel level. Albeit, only a fraction. Dhoni’s poise blended harmoniously with the sedate atmosphere, for most part.
There was something of an inevitability about everything that transpired from the moment Dhoni walked out to bat, and by the time he left, in the final over. Between that he read the situation like his favourite book.
The monotonously familiar innings construction, under pressure, underscored his worth in a side that has copious amounts of flair but might sometimes lack his astute judgement. Especially, on two-paced pitches that render stroke-play difficult, like the one in Chepauk.
Furthermore, apart from effortlessly carrying the team’s cause on his shoulders, Dhoni expertly shepherds those batting around him. During the initial stages of the stand with Pandya, Dhoni’s maturity seemed to rub off on his otherwise impetuous partner. That can be evidenced by the fact that the first 35 off Pandya’s cracking 83 came at a strike-rate of 77.78, which he later picked up in a matter of one over.
Once a semblance of control was seized through intelligent batting, Dhoni watched in vicarious delight, as Pandya unleashed a barrage of boundaries, including three consecutive sixes in an over from Adam Zampa; and that swung the sails of momentum in India’s favour. He was content to rotate the strike and play second fiddle, with the quiet authority of a librarian. Unmistakably, he was the one in charge, though.
He had done it in partnership with Bhuvneshwar Kumar in Sri Lanka recently, to take India home in the second ODI. Just as expertly, as he had against a fiery Pakistan attack at Chepauk in 2012, when his unbeaten 113 helped India recover to a respectable total from an ignominious 27 for five.
His innings of 79 that saw him complete 100 international fifties, and surpass 4000 ODI runs at home was a reiteration of the fact he is as crucial to India’s ODI fortunes, as food, clothing and shelter are in life. That, in a revolutionary era where the buzz words are data analytics and fearlessness, his match-awareness remains just as invaluable an asset. He proved again, to naysayers, that when in choppy waters, he remains a masterful helmsman, whether donning the captain’s hat or not.