Mahendra Singh Dhoni was one of India’s most decorated captains who helped India to notch up countless glories in international cricket through his heroics with his bat, behind the stumps and most importantly through his leadership.
His towering presence in the middle of the field was of symbolic importance to the Indians as that was an emblem of reliability, trust and carnage which all those cricket votaries saw in that long-haired lad hailing all the way from Ranchi. In the wake of his retirement from international cricket a few hours back, we will look at five of his best decisions on the cricket field that elevated him to the pedestal of one of the finest captains of the world.
- Asking spinners to bowl in a tie-breaker
It was India’s first T-20 international and they were locked in a thrilling contest with their arch-rivals, Pakistan. After decent knocks from Robin Uthappa and Dhoni himself, India managed to tot up 141 for 9 from their quota of 20 overs. Pakistan was off to a flyer, thanks to some wondrous batting from Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal. However, a dramatic final over from Sreesanth that saw the game swing in either direction finally got sealed in a tie as Agarkar affected a last-ball run-out of Misbah Ul Haq. What followed was unprecedented stuff in the history of cricket, a bowl out to decide the winner.
The rules were simple. The bowler will get a free hit at the stumps. Much to everyone’s surprise, Dhoni chose Sehwag, Uthappa and Harbhajan Singh while Pakistan resorted to their primary bowlers. It was under the stringent supervision of Dhoni himself, the bowlers started practising.
The results are known to everyone as India clinched the victory, thanks to three pin-point strikes from all their three bowlers while Pakistan’s effort at cracking an enigmatic code failed miserably.
- Introducing Ishant Sharma in the 18th over of the 2013 Champions Trophy Final
Just as everyone thought that the Champions Trophy is headed in England’s way that is when the lightning struck. Much to the woes of Indians, Dhoni introduced Ishant Sharma to the attack against two set batsmen, Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara, the two craftsmen of England’s slick journey to their future victory.
Sharma was smashed for an over-boundary in the very first ball followed by a wide in the next. That is when Dhoni walked up to the lanky bowler and gave him a word of wisdom. Sharma claimed Morgan in the third delivery as the southpaw failing to gauge the bounce ended up holing to Ravichandran Ashwin.
The next ball snuffed out all hopes of an English comeback as this time it was Ravi Bopara who followed suit. Once again being heckled by an uncomfortable rise in the ball, he gave catching practise to Ashwin and India discovered the writing on the wall. Jadeja did the rest as India notched up the Champions Trophy in a high-octane thriller.
- Handing the ball over to Joginder Sharma in the T-20 World Cup final
A match that swung way back in India’s favour, thanks to some stellar bowling from RP Singh and Irfan Pathan, was brought back in balance by a persistent Misbah. To settle the scores in the final over where Pakistan needed 13 runs, Dhoni brought Joginder Sharma to the attack, throwing the Indian fans in a state of hypertension.
The first ball was a million miles wide that once again compelled Dhoni to walk up to Sharma and give him a word of wisdom. The next ball was in the same line but averted Misbah’s wild swing of the bat. The following delivery was dispatched out of the park as Pakistan inched closer to victory.
Needless to say, the next delivery was either going out of the park or India would have their triumph; it was clear from Misbah’s body language. This is when a similar delivery from Joginder was flicked by Misbah in attempt to clear the boundary on the leg side over his head. However, the ball lacked pace and got an unwanted elevation that landed in the safe arms of Sreesanth, erupting a hundred crore Indians into frenzied celebrations.
- Promoting himself to number five in the 2011 World Cup final
Despite a decent bowling effort from the Indians, they were off to a shaky start, thanks to some phenomenal bowling from Malinga, who removed both Sehwag and Sachin in quick succession. Despite Kohli and Gambhir doing a major overhaul to the innings, the departure of Kohli was way too premature for the Indians to stage a comeback. Just as everyone thought that the in-form Yuvraj Singh would walk in the middle, it was Dhoni himself who took the pitch. Probably in order to settle an early score where Muralitharan dismissed him for a golden duck in the 2007 World Cup or to save Yuvraj’s pyrotechnics for the end, Dhoni started building the innings with a set Gambhir.
By the time Gambhir was dismissed, Dhoni had his eyes set and that gave the leeway to Yuvraj to play his natural game that took off all the pressure from India. It was Dhoni’s willow that smashed the telling blow against Sri Lanka, helping India to seize their second World Cup.
- Standing with his gloves open in the 2016 World Cup T-20 match against Bangladesh for the last ball
In a must-win match for India in the 2016 T-20 World Cup, India was on the brink of defeat as Bangladesh needed only 11 runs to win off the final over. Bringing on Hardik Pandya to the attack, Dhoni realized that he has committed a howler as the bowlers wouldn’t simply oblige to the set field.
Conceding 9 off the first three deliveries, he almost knocked India out of the fray as Mushfiqur punched the air in exultation, anticipating an easy victory. This is where it all changed, as making a senseless error, Mushfiq absorbed Pandya’s bait and wanted to finish things in style resorting to the aerial route. Dhawan pouched a blinder in the deep. Another set batsman Mahmudullah couldn’t keep his calm and followed the same trajectory of his skipper and ended up holing out to Jadeja in the deep.
All Bangladesh was needed was 2 runs off the last ball and Dhoni anticipating a miss opened the keeping glove of his right arm and waited. As expected, it was a wild swing of the bat from Shuvagata and a miss. They attempted for a tie and Dhoni flashed in like a lightning and dislodged the bails to register a thrilling victory, ensuring India’s stay in the tournament.