It has been the talking point for a while, whether Mahendra Singh Dhoni still carries his hitting ability. On Saturday, the skipper again ended up spooning a return catch after India entered the last over of the match needing 11 to win. His dismissal left India needing seven runs from three deliveries and they lost by five runs.
The Dhoni of old would have smashed young paceman Kagiso Rabada’s short delivery over midwicket for six. This time, he got it too high on his bat. It could be wrong shot selection, but the situation left him with no other option as Dhoni, like on earlier occasions, had dragged the match to the last over. Much as he would have wanted to avoid such a situation again by coming ahead of Suresh Raina, in the end he had adopted a gambit that has failed on the last few occasions. For his lack of big hits, Dhoni ran phenomenally well to put pressure on the South Africa fielders. But he also needed his hands to pull off big shots. His legs could do only so much.
“When you bat down the order, you have to take the blame. When your role is as a finisher and you don’t finish the game, people tend to remember those matches. It is not an easy job and it doesn’t always work. At times you have to play big shots; if the wicket is great and the ball is coming nicely on to the bat then you can get away (using the pace of the bowler) but when the wicket has average bounce, it is slightly difficult. Of course, that is what my job is in the side (finishing),” Dhoni said.
When he was in form, it was up to Dhoni how far he wanted to drag the match as he had tremendous ability to pull off victories. It was he who began the trend of finishing very late, which led everyone to believe it’s possible every single time. But the time has come to revisit that gambit. Once, even his teammate Gautam Gambhir had questioned that method in Australia. If you have wickets in hand and some overs are left, why drag it instead of going for the kill.
On a day when one gambit worked, the others collapsed—Rahane clicked but Ashwin’s side strain, Kohli and Raina failing at crucial moments and bowlers being blown away by AB de Villiers --- Dhoni had every reason to feel the team had been let down. First, it was his team mates and then he himself fell short of the standards he has set over the years.