He played his last international game three years ago, but his name still echoes over the entire cricketing landscape of this nation
For an over-resourced cricketing powerhouse like India, winning the next World Cup should be the plan. Not many in this country saw the first-ever triumph in 1983, when they overcame all odds stacked against them to beat the invincible West Indies. Only in the ’90s did the television set become ubiquitous in Indian households. The two World Cup triumphs witnessed by the entirety of the nation came under the leadership of MS Dhoni — T20I in 2007 and ODI in 2011. This very much explains why Dhoni is so significant to this cricket-frenzied nation.
He played his last international game three years ago, but his name still echoes over the entire cricketing landscape of this nation. As he turns 41 on this day, we take a look at seven of his biggest decisions that changed the face of Indian cricket.
To become the first World T20I Champions, India needed 13 runs to defend in the final over. Having reduced Pakistan to 77/6 in a low-scoring clash, the match was already tilted in India’s favour. But Misbah had other plans. He played a quickfire cameo to pull Pakistan out of choppy waters, such that they then, needed just two clean hits to clinch the title.
Harbhajan Singh, who was among the most frugal bowlers that day, had an over remaining. But Dhoni left everyone scratching their head by handing Joginder Sharma the last over. Joginder conceded a six on his second ball, but then had Misbah caught at deep fine leg to end Pakistan’s innings.
The occasion was the final of the 2013 ICC Champions League. In a rain-hit match, reduced to 20-overs-per-side, India was staring at an obvious defeat, after getting restricted to 129/7 in the first innings. With Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan at the crease, the decision to call Ishant Sharma to bowl the 18th over didn’t make any sense. Sharma had conceded 28 runs in his three opening overs, and the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and R Ashwin hadn’t fulfilled their quota. When Sharma conceded six on the second ball, it looked like the game was over for India. But he removed two set batters in the next two balls to ensure an easy victory for India.
Other than becoming the first captain to win all ICC tournaments in 2013, he also changed the fortune of a talented but inconsistent batter that year. He promoted Rohit Sharma to open the innings, and the rest, as they say, is history. “We gave him time to think about it. We all felt he is someone who can be a really good opener, in the sense he cuts and pulls really well,” said Dhoni when he was asked about this decision.
Soon after Virat Kohli got dismissed, everyone expected Yuvraj Singh to come to the crease. Yuvraj had had a prolific tournament, while Dhoni had failed to put up a substantial total in the entire campaign. His highest total in the tournament was 34 up to that point. But since Gautam Gambhir was already on the crease, the skipper wanted a right-handed batter to join him, and thus promoted himself. He ended up slamming an unbeaten 92 and a winning shot that sealed India’s first ODI World Cup in close to three decades.
A year after winning the T20I World Cup, MS Dhoni did the unthinkable by dropping Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, two of the biggest names of Indian cricket, from the ODI squad for the Tri-Series in Australia. “The emphasis was on fielding abilities and chief selectors and team management wanted a young fielding side for the tour,” justified BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah. Dhoni wanted his side to be like Ricky Ponting’s Australia in terms of fielding, and he set the example by dropping senior players who were not very good on the field.
Hardik Pandya owes a lot to MS Dhoni, who not only showed irredeemable faith in the all-rounder but also sharpened his rough edges, when he was new to international cricket. When Pandya won the IPL title with Gujarat Titans earlier this year, he talked about the importance Dhoni played in his career. “I have learned a lot from everyone, especially Mahi bhai. When I went there I was raw material. The way he groomed me, the way he gave me a lot of freedom. He wanted me to make my own mistakes and learn from them,” he said.
With 90 Test appearances already, Dhoni could have easily played ten more to join the illustrious list of cricketers with over 100 Test appearances. He stepped down in the middle of the Test series in Australia, allowing Virat Kohli to take charge for the last game. This was the start of the new era for Indian cricket in Test, in which they became an indomitable force at home, and won twice in Australia.
(Featured Image Credit: ICC)