5 Most underrated knocks by MS Dhoni in international cricket

MS Dhoni has won several matches for India
MS Dhoni has won several matches for India
Shashwat Kumar

When MS Dhoni made his international debut in 2004, he did so amidst a wave of expectations. At that stage, not many cricketers had showcased the kind of bravado that had been associated with the wicket-keeper, while his unconventional batting style also kept millions glued to the television.

Thus, when Dhoni was dismissed for a duck on his ODI debut and his subsequent innings only fetched meagre returns, plenty across the nation were gutted. In fact, they also felt that the long-haired maverick would embody another story of unfulfilled potential.

Thankfully though, as the years passed, Dhoni ensured that he turned around his career and he did so rather remarkably. By the time he hung up his boots in August 2020, he had several records to his name, both as a batter and as a captain.

Unsurprisingly, there are countless MS Dhoni memories etched in Indian cricketing folklore. Not just because he has often left a lasting impression but also because he has directly contributed to India’s biggest triumphs in the 21st century.

The knock in the high-pressure confines of the Wankhede Stadium in the 2011 Cricket World Cup final, the blazing tons against Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the extraordinary last over heists against Australia and Sri Lanka have all added to Dhoni's legend.

Yet, for a cricketer who achieved so much for India, he still boasted a few innings that, rather amazingly, flew under the radar and aren’t talked of in the same breath as some of the aforementioned.

Hence, on the occasion of Dhoni’s 40th birthday, the time seems ripe to take a trip down memory lane and relive five of his most underrated international knocks – essays that weren’t splashed across the back pages when they happened, nor do they form a part of the average cricketing conversation involving Dhoni.

Honourable mentions: 92* against South Africa at Indore, 2015 (ODI) and 78* against England at Lord's, 2011 (ODI

#5 Dhoni's 90 against South Africa at Centurion, 2010 (Test match)

Dhoni looked ungainly at times but battled his way to 90 at Centurion
Dhoni looked ungainly at times but battled his way to 90 at Centurion

When India toured the rainbow nation in 2010, they had largely established their status as one of the premier red-ball outfits. However, things didn’t go to plan at SuperSport Park, with South Africa winning the toss and then inserting India into bat. India’s batting unit was found wanting and the visitors were promptly skittled out for 136.

In reply, South Africa plundered 620 in the first innings. Jacques Kallis was the star of the show and bagged his maiden double century in Test cricket. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla were the other centurions as the hosts turned the screw firmly.

India, though, just about managed to stay afloat in their second innings and with Sachin Tendulkar gunning for an unprecedented 50th ton in Test cricket, found themselves precariously placed at 277/5 when Dhoni walked out to bat. To place things into context, India still trailed by 217 runs at that stage. Under ordinary circumstances, most batters would’ve buckled down and would’ve tried to absorb the pressure. Dhoni though, isn’t an ordinary cricketer.

The wicket-keeper came out swinging and immediately transferred the pressure onto the bowlers. On a surface that was still good for batting, he showcased his full range of strokes and wasn’t afraid of taking the attack to the likes of Jacques Kallis, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel.

Ultimately, Dhoni perished when Dale Steyn worked his magic with the swinging ball. Yet, the Indian skipper’s innings ensured that India didn’t wilt to a humiliating defeat. And, if it was any solace, he also allowed Sachin to complete his 50th Test century.

Over the years, not many of Dhoni’s most impactful knocks have come in a losing cause – such has been his dominance. This one though, was a slight aberration, although it wasn’t for a lack of fight and to this day, it remains one of his better essays in SENA countries.

4. Dhoni's 124 against Australia at Nagpur, 2009 (ODI)

MS Dhoni was at his virtuoso best against Australia at Nagpur
MS Dhoni was at his virtuoso best against Australia at Nagpur

By October 2009, Dhoni had established himself as India’s best middle order batter and had adapted his game to suit the team’s needs. The big hits that had characterized the wicket-keeper at the start of the career were only being unfurled meticulously, with Dhoni the anchor taking centre-stage. And, perhaps that trend reached a crescendo at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on 28th October 2009.

Australia had won the toss and on a pitch that hadn’t seen any day-night international cricket previously, opted to bowl. The visitors got off to a decent start as well, with Peter Siddle removing Sachin in the 4th over.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir injected a bit of impetus into the innings but when the former departed, India were still 67/2 in the 11th over. A few overs later, Yuvraj Singh followed suit, meaning that India were trickily placed at 97/3 – all within 16 overs, which on a true batting track, seemed far from ideal.

Dhoni strode out to the centre at that juncture and gave himself a bit of time to acclimatize to the surroundings. His endeavor, however, wasn’t helped by a stinging Mitchell Johnson bouncer on the first ball he faced and a hefty collision with the pacer, balls later.

The Indian skipper didn’t let emotions get the better of him though as he utilized the vast real estate on offer at Nagpur. He, along with Gambhir, scurried singles and doubles for a major chunk of the middle overs, meaning that the hosts stabilized their innings and set themselves up for an almighty assault. To put things into perspective, Dhoni only scored 54 runs (out of 124) in boundaries.

And, eventually, the onslaught arrived with Dhoni’s powerful wrists taking centre-stage. He clawed his way to 124 and put the target well beyond Australia’s reach.

In the aftermath of the game, he ranked that particular knock as one of his best in ODI cricket. At the time, he said it felt good because it came after a while. Yet, there would also have been satisfaction that his change in method – something that was going to define his tenure as Indian captain, had all the ingredients to consistently bear fruit.

Best middle order ODI batter in the world then? That innings surely made people believe so.

#3 Dhoni's 92 against Australia at Mohali, 2008

MS Dhoni bludgeoned the Australian bowlers into submission at Mohali (Credits: Cricket Country)
MS Dhoni bludgeoned the Australian bowlers into submission at Mohali (Credits: Cricket Country)

In 2008, India had begun exploring split captaincy, with Anil Kumble heading the Test outfit and Dhoni being handed over the reins in white-ball cricket. An unfortunate injury to Kumble before the Mohali Test in 2008 threw a spanner in those works, with Dhoni and his ability to skipper a Test team being cast under the scanner in the harshest of circumstances – against a full-strength Australian side.

However, that barely evoked a changed reaction from Dhoni, who casually picked up the Player of the Match award and set the stage for a historic series victory against Australia.

India navigated their way to relative safety in the first innings, with the scoreboard reading 326/6 post Ishant Sharma’s dismissal. However, against an outfit of Australia’s ilk, which comprised batters such as Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting, India needed a bit of oomph to establish a position of ascendancy.

As had become the norm, that thrust was provided by Dhoni, who waltzed to the centre and bludgeoned the Australian attack into submission. The Indian captain clattered 8 fours and 4 sixes en route a 92-run knock, which only came off 124 deliveries.

He was particularly severe on Cameron White and Peter Siddle. And, by the time he was done, only two results seemed possible – an Indian victory or a draw.

Dhoni followed it up with another belligerent innings second time out – something that allowed the Indians to keep their foot on the Australians’ throats.

India won the game comfortably and repeated the feat at Nagpur under Dhoni’s captaincy, meaning that they scripted a 2-0 series victory. And, just like that, Dhoni – the Test skipper had announced himself on the international stage.

#2 Dhoni's 45 against South Africa at the 2007 ICC World T20, Durban

Dhoni hustled and bustled his way to another match-winning contribution
Dhoni hustled and bustled his way to another match-winning contribution

The 2007 ICC World T20 was always looked upon by India as a breeding ground for youngsters that would represent the country in the near future. None of the established order, namely Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly made the trip to the rainbow nation, meaning that Dhoni was entrusted with the responsibility of leading the side.

The Indians began fairly well and their journey was adorned by an enthralling victory against Pakistan in the group stages. In the Super Eight round though, their character was tested to the hilt, especially after they went down to New Zealand.

Against England, Yuvraj Singh wrote himself into the history books courtesy of his six sixes and single-handedly propelled India to a wing.

Against South Africa though, India weren’t able to avail Yuvraj’s services, meaning that the onus was on Dhoni. To add to the Men In Blue’s troubles, they were dented early, with South Africa’s bowlers enjoying themselves.

This time, Dhoni sought company in Rohit Sharma – a youngster who had made his debut at the tournament and one who had been touted for greatness. At first, runs were hard to come by but as the game progressed, both batters found their groove.

Dhoni showcased excellent temperament to absorb the initial pressure and shepherd the Indians to a situation where they could unveil their entire repertoire of strokes. The ploy worked to a tee, with Dhoni’s innings of 45 ensuring that Rohit crafted a well-complied fifty and in turn, India reached a score that would challenge the South Africans.

Thereafter, RP Singh wreaked havoc and blew the hosts out of the water. So much so that South Africa, who only needed to register a tight defeat to qualify for the semi-final, were dumped out of the competition altogether.

Rohit was understandably named the Player of the Match for his exploits. Yet, it might not have been possible had Dhoni not anchored the Indian innings. And, for an anchor to finish with a strike rate of 136.36 was quite impressive in itself.

In fact, that particular fixture also made India believe that they could win from any situation – a notion they proved right by outwitting Australia and Pakistan before lifting the inaugural World T20 title.

#1 Dhoni's 76* against England at Lord’s, 2007

MS Dhoni dragged 1ndia to safety at Lord's in 2007 against England
MS Dhoni dragged 1ndia to safety at Lord's in 2007 against England

When India toured England in 2007, there was palpable optimism that India could set a cat among the English pigeons. Not just because Rahul Dravid had grown in stature as a captain but also because they could call upon young talents of the ilk of Dinesh Karthik and MS Dhoni.

Not all went to plan for the first four and a half days of the 1st Test though, with Kevin Pietersen’s century and England’s fast bowling supremacy putting India under the cosh.

When Dinesh Karthik was dismissed for 60 in the 48th over, India still needed to bat plenty of overs under overcast skies and helpful bowling conditions. They spiraled further over the next couple of hours, with VVS Laxman’s wicket leaving India stranded at 231/6 – 149 runs adrift of England’s target.

The only man who stood between England and a potential victory was MS Dhoni and boy, didn’t he pull out all the stops to thwart the English charge.

In contrast to his natural instincts, Dhoni bided his time and portrayed exceptional grit and determination to tide over the storms (both literally and metaphorically). However, as the situation grew grimmer, with Anil Kumble and RP Singh departing, he wasn’t afraid to use the huge heaves to keep the bowlers honest.

To place things into context, Dhoni and Sreesanth batted for close to five overs, with the former expertly farming the strike and ensuring that the latter only faced 7 of the 30 possible deliveries. Ultimately, the heavens opened up, perhaps in awe of Dhoni’s rear-guard act and washed out the rest of the day as India clung onto a draw by the barest of margins.

In the 2nd Test, their fortunes took a turn for the better as they thumped England at Trent Bridge, laying the platform for a magnificent conquest on English shores.

And, even though there were countless other narratives through the series, whether it be Anil Kumble’s maiden (and only) Test ton, Rahul Dravid’s superlative captaincy or Zaheer Khan’s wizardry, perhaps Dhoni’s innings at Lord’s was the event that set the ball rolling.

Also Read: MS Dhoni breathes cricket yet will find a way to remain detached from it

Edited by Prasen Moudgal


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