When MS Dhoni tried his first big hit of the fifth one-dayer, it was so clumsy the Indian fans had their hearts in their mouth, till the time the ball took to reach Nathan Lyon in the deep. To their relief, he suffered a lapse in concentration, dropping an easy catch.
Dhoni was on seven then, off 21 balls, and was just not getting the timing right. Playing without helmet was tried, so was a change of bat, but India’s best finisher was laborious. At the end of the 48th over, he had crawled to 18 off 34. It took 36 balls for his first four.
To his credit, he kept fighting and his 34 was invaluable to the successful chase. However, on Saturday night, it was his temperament more than his skill that came to the fore.
It could be a change in approach or a small technical issue, but something’s missing, and holding Dhoni the batsman back. Though he got India through in the final ODI in Sydney, it was more about his ability to absorb pressure.
He just couldn’t time the big hits, except the one four and a six he managed. It means the only time he caused tension in the Australia camp was in the third game at Melbourne, where he smashed a nine-ball 23.
Dhoni is happy when he gets some time in the middle before exploding. For the second straight game, after Manuka Oval, the top order had set the platform from where the Indian captain could play himself in before going for big shots. But there was no rhythm.
Dhoni’s finishing ability and power-hitting is as important for India as his leadership. As the team looks to build momentum towards its World T20 campaign, one target of this series is Dhoni rediscovering his hitting. He has three more hits to get on top of his game.
At the nets on Monday, he was subdued against the spinners but launched into power-hitting in the pacers’ net. Given his awesome record, Australia have done their homework, and targeted him well.
ODI skipper, Steve Smith, explained their plan. “I guess for us it was always a little bit different. You’ve got to try and not be too predictable to MS. You’ve to try and get him out most of all. We got a chance (on Saturday), which we didn’t take and that was probably a little bit of a turning point in the game. We were able to build a bit of pressure on him when he came to the crease, and get a few dots on him as we’re trying to take a wicket.
“We know if he is there long enough, he’s an extremely dangerous player. We’ve seen that throughout his career, he’s got India over the line on numerous occasions. He finds the boundary at the right time. For him to hit a six off the first ball of the last over, and that really got the team home, I guess.”
T20 captain Aaron Finch will look to maintain Smith’s template, but Dhoni will be straining at the leash. For India, it’s high time the captain moved into top gear.