No batting in 307 days, but 42-year-old MS Dhoni ‘still got it’ | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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No batting in 307 days, but 42-year-old MS Dhoni ‘still got it’

Apr 01, 2024 09:37 PM IST

In a little over three months, MS Dhoni will turn 43. Yet, many believed 72 in 23 deliveries wasn’t beyond him.

Until Sunday night, he hadn’t batted in a representative game for 307 days. Still, everyone dared to dream.

Chennai Super Kings' MS Dhoni plays a shot during the match against Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024, at Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium (ANI)
Chennai Super Kings' MS Dhoni plays a shot during the match against Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024, at Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium (ANI)

In a little over three months, he will turn 43. Yet, many believed 72 in 23 deliveries wasn’t beyond him.

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Welcome to the magical, surreal, incomparable world of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Captain Cool forever, Thala since he was roped in by Chennai Super Kings at the inception of the Indian Premier League.

In Visakhapatnam on Sunday night, Dhoni showed – to borrow a phrase from Virat Kohli – that he ‘still got it’. Maybe not for India anymore, considering he has been happily retired from international cricket for a long time now, but certainly for the franchise that brings a smile to his lips, joy to his heart and brings out the best in him night after sterling night.

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Nominally, this was Delhi Capitals’ home match, but no one seemed to bother. It was yellow, and yellove, that was the dominant theme at the ACA-VDCA Stadium, on a night when the result seemed inconsequential to everyone one else but the miniscule minority that constituted the immediate Delhi Capitals family.

Fans at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, who simply can’t have enough of Dhoni, had waited expectantly for Thala to make a token appearance with the bat in victories against Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Gujarat Titans, but the talisman wasn’t required to wield his scimitar. On Sunday, he had no choice; chasing 192 for victory, CSK were floundering at 120 for six at the start of the 17th over, Shivam Dube, their last realistic hope, gobbled up by the rampaging Mukesh Kumar.

The earth shook a little as Dhoni marched to the middle, his characteristic twitchy mannerisms in tow. The stadium erupted in a cacophony of riotous celebration merely at the sight of the warrior dressed for battle, pushing his broadsword ahead of him as he shadowed a couple of defensive pushes. Not a defensive stroke was on view over the next 25 minutes!

Dhoni dispatched his first delivery in more than ten months to the square-leg fence. If it was anyone else, you might have said he took offence at Mukesh, upstart Mukesh, irreverent Mukesh, trying to bounce him out. But Dhoni isn’t anyone else, is he? He saw the ball, saw it was in his arc and he biffed it behind square, power and timing and placement wondrous. Did you say he hadn’t batted in a match for 307 days? Pfft…

That was merely the sumptuous appetiser. The main course came in a breathtaking rush, an amalgam of the brute power coiled in that wiry, muscular frame and an awareness of fields that comes instinctively only to the chosen few. In an era gone by, a younger Dhoni might have contended that 72 in 23 wasn’t impossible; this Dhoni, still anything but an ageing superstar with fading memory, chose to embrace the pragmatic. He told himself, and his partner Ravindra Jadeja, that the game was gone. Therefore, he used the remaining deliveries to play himself into the tournament, pitting his wares against the faster boys – Mukesh, Player of the Match Khaleel Ahmed and the fiery Anrich Nortje – and coming out on top. 37 not out off 16 deliveries, four fours, three sixes. Game not quite sealed and delivered, but another tick in the Dhoni box of the legendary, another affirmation that come hell or high water, the final kick is still very much a part of the Dhoni armoury.

Jadeja was in on the act too. The Dhoni Act, that is. Singles were turned down because Dhoni wanted the strike. And when Dhoni wants something, he invariably gets it. The right-hander faced 16 off the 23 deliveries bowled when he was in the middle; Mukesh was battered through cover for four, Khaleel was smashed over extra cover for six and the final over from Nortje disappeared for 20 runs. A four though covers off a yorker gone just marginally wrong, a one-handed six over mid-wicket off a full toss, another full toss smashed over mid-on and the final flourish, a third full toss deposited deep into the stands behind cover. Nortje looked as if he had seen a ghost while behind the stumps, his captain, Rishabh Pant, the Dhoni understudy, couldn’t suppress a smile. He could relate to the man who continues to inspire him, to his pyrotechnics and his mindset, to his pride and hunger.

CSK slid to their first defeat of the season, DC finally got on the points table. Defeat was decisive, by 20 runs. But this Dhoni, man, how effortlessly he puts all this to shade. Yeah, he still got it, no doubt about that.

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