The MS Dhoni legend in seven innings: swashbuckler to master finisher

MS Dhoni’s 14-year ODI career has been replaced by smart paced, blockbuster finishes. But that’s not all he was talking about, certainly not at the beginning of his career. While offering adieu, ESPNcricinfo grabs sand – it must be sand, right? – from his best ODI innings, which traced the evolution of a dasher to probably the greatest finisher of all time.

91 * v Sri Lanka, Mumbai, 2011

Setting: It is the final of the 2011 World Cup, India are 114 for 3 and the demand level creeps to six in a hunt of 275. Far Yuvraj Singh, the player of the tournament Dhoni.

He had managed all 150 runs in seven innings for the final, but he knocked on the locker room window and told coach Gary Kirsten, “I want to go in next.” The reasoning behind the promotion was that he was better equipped than Yuvraj to treat Muttiah Muralitharan. Yuvraj was hesitant about quality spin, even at his best, and Dhoni had the advantage of using the variations of Muralitharan, with doosra, at the Chennai Super Kings nets in the IPL.

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For a long time, Dhoni did not hit a single boundary, and it was Gautam Gambhir who did the heavy lifting. Then Muralitharan pulled one out, and Dhoni lured it to the cover border. He collected a run-a-ball 22 from Muralitharan and later brought the roof down at the Wankhede when he left Thisara Perera over backwards point. The demand rate and attack of Sri Lanka was now at Dhoni’s mercy. He sealed it in the most emphatic way, and launched Nuwan Kulasekara into the stands outside long-on. Boom! India had won the World Cup after 28 years and set the gold standard for cricket with limited overs in the following years.

148 v Pakistan, Visakhapatnam, 2005

Setting: Let’s go back to 2005, when the legend of Dhoni began to take shape. In only his fifth ODI innings, Dhoni, shoulder-length red-tinted hair and all, was promoted to no. 3 by captain Sourav Ganguly after Sachin Tendulkar escaped for 2.

After walking with Virender Sehwag with a swagger and holding hands, Dhoni contemptuously slapped Pakistan’s seamstresses over the point as Sehwag was accustomed to. Abdul Razzaq was robbed over point, Mohammad Sami and Rana Naved-ul Hasan were sent via extra-cover from the front foot, and Shahid Afridi was also not spared when Dhoni ran on the track and launched him over extra-cover, copping a mouthful out of the bowler.

Dhoni moved to his first ODI hundred of 88 balls, then showed his full range, unfurling scoops, sweeps and down-the-track mowing of leg-side to leave Pakistan and asked him what had hit her.

183 * v Sri Lanka, Jaipur, 2005

Setting: Six months later, another fierce attack from no. 3, this time in a yacht of 299. Tendulkar left early again. Dhoni runs outside, rolling his shoulder and windmilling his arms.

He showed he could be more than a pinch-hitter and ended the steep hunt with a fine cocktail of power and calculation, even comparing to Tendulkar’s Desert Storm. His unbeaten 183 of 145 still remains the highest individual score by a wicketkeeper-batsman in ODI cricket.

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The carnage began when he beat Chaminda Vaas over extra cover for a brace of sixteen, and then decided decisive footwork against Muralitharan, choosing his doosra easy. His first fifty came off 40 balls, the second off 45, and the third on at least 38. Already told, 120 of his 183 runs came across boundaries, including what would become a calling card: finishing the job with a six.

72 * v Pakistan, 2006, Lahore

Setting: The series of five matches is locked at 1-1. After sending post Pakistan 288 on the back of Shoaib Malik’s 108. When Dhoni arrives in the middle at Yuvraj, India still needs a run-a-ball 99 against a formidable attack led by Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul.

And Dhoni only mustered his way to 72 of 46 balls, the dasher had become the king, from finishing games. He bordered on everything that was remotely wide and struck loose like a boxer. When his body was straightened, he pulled away with precision. Slower deliveries were switched away, including one mid-off with one hand. From 18 of 20 balls, he zoomed to a 35-ball fifty and killed the yacht, leaving then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in fear of his strokeplay like his capsule.

113 * v Pakistan, Chennai, 2012

Setting: India’s top four are all bowled over by full, swinging deliveries. Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina do not last long either. On a hot day in Chennai, India feels the heat – literally and differently.

Two of Chennai’s favorite sons – Dhoni and R Ashwin – though absorbed it and saved the innings with a resolute 125-run stand – the most for the seventh wicket for India. From 29 for 5, Dhoni dragged India to 227 for 6. He tiptop in the early exchanges and later ran hard in the middle overs in the Chepauk oven.

He committed himself to making ten twos, one three, and 44 singles and at the end of the innings he could barely stand. However, he went out in the slog-overs. In the final over bowled by Junaid Khan, Dhoni rolled out a scandalous shot, scoring a yorker between backcourt and short third man for four. It was only fitting that he ended the Tour de Force of Chennai with a double, but it was not enough for India to win the opening of the series.

44 * v Australia, Adelaide, 2012

Setting: After praising Clint McKay Sehwag and Virat Kohli, Gambhir marches the hunt with a steep 90-thing before Dhoni … sounds familiar?

There were early similarities between this hunt and the World Cup final in 2011. India was 178 for 4 in the 35th over in the chase of 270 when Dhoni left. A jab here, a think there, and he put up 61 for the fifth wicket with Raina of 72 balls. Later India had 13 of the last left. Gambhir later reckoned that India should not have taken it for granted, but this was how Dhoni dealt with hunters. It came down to 12 off four balls. Dhoni v McKay. The bowler missed his length, and Dhoni sent it towards the Adelaide hill for a six-yard box of 112 meters. Sure, it was a half volley, but the almighty bat swing was memorable enough to switch in this list. The fourth ball was a beamer that was caught at deep square legs, but Dhoni secured a double and polished off the chase with two balls to spare.

45 * v Sri Lanka, Port-of-Spain, 2013

Setting: Shaminda Eranga pushes up the top order and then Rangana Herath shoots some magic at a pitch where one ball bounces and the other sparkles through at pitch level. The final of the tri-series is on the line.

In the last half of his career, Dhoni traded brute force for risk-free accumulation and reduced the game for him v the bowler in the last. On a treacherous job of Port of Spain, Dhoni Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Vinay Kumar all fell around him in a 202 yacht, but blocked and colored his way to the last pass, making the comparison at 15 of six. balls came. It was down to Dhoni, no. 11 for business, v Eranga. He had a great swish at the first ball… and missed. The second was full and wide, and it was biffed in the roof over Eranga’s head. From there, only one result was possible, and Dhoni finished it off with a six.