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)
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)
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.