Mahendra Singh Dhoni returns to the scene of his first big impact a decade ago seeking to provide a few key answers when India face New Zealand in the deciding fifth one-day international on Saturday.
Before the start of the ODI series against New Zealand when Mahendra Singh Dhoni stated that he has started using Virat Kohli’s brain more now, it was another indicator that time was coming closer for India’s most successful limited overs captain to hand over the leadership baton to India’s Test skipper.
After Kohli’s team achieved a 3-0 whitewash in the Test series, Dhoni’s army was expected to continue their dominance over New Zealand in the one-dayers. However, that hasn’t quite happened.
While the stage is set for a Diwali dhamaka when India square off against Kane Williamson’s men at the ACA-VDCA Stadium in the series decider at Vizag, an adverse outcome for the hosts in the final clash might literally put Dhoni’s limited overs captaincy on the line.
Since Dhoni’s sudden Test retirement in December 2014, India have managed to clinch only two ODI series – both against minnows Zimbabwe.
In Dhoni’s first series as ODI captain since retiring from Test cricket in Australia, India were shocked by Bangladesh 1-2 in Dhaka. Dhoni’s team also lost to South Africa 2-3 at home – giving the Proteas their first-ever bilateral series win in India. The Indian team then travelled to Australia for the limited overs series where they managed to win only one ODI of the five-match series.
In the New Zealand series too, India dominated in the opening clash at Dharamsala, but caved in at Delhi’s Ferozshah Kotla. Thanks to Virat Kohli’s blinder at Mohali and Dhoni’s whirlwind knock, India took a 2-1 lead in the series heading into Ranchi.
After having restricted New Zealand to 260/3, expectations were high from Dhoni to chase down the modest total and clinch the series in his hometown. The Indian batsmen, however, succumbed once Ajinkya Rahane (57) and Virat Kohli (45) fell, giving the visitors a chance to level the series.
While Dhoni has decided to promote himself to the number four position to redeem his batting which had “deteriorated” over the years by playing the role of a finisher, the Indian skipper has had to redefine his ability to think out of box and surprise the opponent with his tactics.
Apart from the 80 at Mohali in Kohli’s company, Dhoni’s bat hasn’t quite produced desired results in the series with scores of 21, 39 and 11. His last knock where he took 31 balls for his 11 left the skipper “very disappointed”. What would have hurt him the most was the manner in which he was dismissed after a James Neesham delivery managed to find the gap between his bat and pad to disrupt his furniture.
As Dhoni tries to rekindle his brute batting power, the ACA-VDCA Stadium provides an ideal set-up for the Indian captain to explode. It was here that Dhoni announced his international arrival with an explosive 148 off 123 balls against arch-rivals Pakistan to take India to 356 for nine in 2005. Sent in as pinch-hitter at No 3 by skipper Sourav Ganguly, Dhoni blasted 15 boundaries and four sixes in that innings.
Memories of that vintage knock by Dhoni could be refreshed if he produces a similar knock in the final ODI.