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A 'perfect' Dhoni knock, killed before it could finish

As perfectly as it ran according to the dream script, Dhoni's onslaught at Mohali met an imperfect end.

FEATURED WRITER
Feature 16 Apr 2018, 03:43 IST
1.11K

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It ended with a six. And him, on the losing side.

Tommy Simsek, the team physio, came running to Dhoni's aid at the end of the 19th over. He had been a regular, smiling head at the PCA grounds throughout the night, running to and fro like a pendulum, a bagful of magic sprays bobbing in his hand. He came scooting towards Dhoni, who was on his knees, chatting with Dwayne Bravo with seventeen runs and six balls to go.

Dhoni shooed Simsek away.

He leapt to his feet, touched his toes and punched his partner's gloves, returning to the non-striker's end with a brisk walk. He had been harrowed by back spasms all night and had received several quick fixes, through timeouts, dismissal breaks, and whatnots.

It must have been the growing weight of the monkey on his back.

A few days back, he had played a painstaking 28-ball 25; Chennai squeezed through, but Dhoni struggled, unable to figure out whether to go all-out-attack or pause and slow it down. He chose to wait, but couldn't wriggle out of the hole he had created for himself.

Against Punjab, there were moments when he grappled, but he hung on, and then turned his drooping wrist into an iron fist, twisting the game out from one end of the spectrum to another. On the way, he met Ravichandran Ashwin.

His busy brains snuck inside the red cap, Ashwin was plotting things all along, devising his own ways, poking Dhoni's sides, waiting for him to flinch.

He was in his own zone, as a newly-turned leg-spinner, as a fielder, but above all, as a tactician, itching to set the record straight against a franchise that had refused to retain him.

One of Ashwin's sliders had whizzed off the pitch like a plastic ball on a cemented surface and struck Dhoni on the pads. In the opening game, he had succumbed to the unknown guile of Mayank Markande in a very similar fashion. Unable to read the variation at times, he tends to get into that leg-stump tangle. It's a known chink in his armour.

As far back as in 2007, that's how he had gotten out to Muralitharan's arm-ball in the World Cup.

Against Punjab, the run-rate in question had found its way to reach Mt.15.00. Dhoni hammered the next one to cover. No run.

Dhoni brushed his mid-innings ghosts away, but walked into his last-over demons
Dhoni brushed his mid-innings ghosts away but walked into his last-over demons

At that moment, something snapped.

A flighted dolly floated along, right in 'the Dhoni slot'. He plonked his front foot out, sat on one knee and swiped the ball out, past square leg. Till then, he had had his moments of the odd struggle: nervous pokes, edgy prods, unsure nudges. But he had hung around. He had to squeeze out of that hole again.

The pacers followed, and the floodgates opened. A hard swoosh at Tye through the covers, a chopper-shot off his legs to Mohit Sharma, and suddenly, a full-sleeved MS Dhoni had grown half a decade younger, pulling off one-handed sixes, despite a nagging spine and a raging asking run-rate. Dhoni was holding the game by the scruff of its neck and strangling it. Simsek had been shooed away. He couldn't care less.

Just like the 'slider' though, some chinks stay.

Ashwin, having carried an animated face throughout Dhoni's shenanigans, made a re-entry into the plot. The idea was clear, make Dhoni's spastic spine stretch - hurl the full ball wide of the off stump to make him reach: he had been troubled by the delivery for a few years, and Ashwin knew it well and good.

The first ball Dhoni faced off the last over, he was offered a glance at what was in store. He seemed to be waiting though. A yorker outside off and Dhoni pounced on it, wringing it out from between backward point and short third man.

Ashwin, Barinder Sran and Yuvraj Singh were stationed, what looked like, within arm's distance of each other, at cover-point, backward point and short third man. Dhoni still managed to pierce the gap.

Not even a shade amused, Ashwin refused to give any leeway, dragging Sran back to deep backward point. Mohit Sharma had clear instructions, and he did not question them. Out came the yorker, away from the radar of Dhoni's swinging Mjolnir, again and again. And again.

Dhoni flinched. The poking on the sides had finally worked. He grimaced, having missed out on the fourth delivery of the final over. Until then, we were cruising in the early 2010s - one delivery pulled us back to 2018. Ashwin must have smiled.

For consolation, (ah yes, for the net run-rate), and also for his own love of that habit of his, he swung the last ball into the cheers. But it was a seemingly detached-looking stroke, a six to long on, effected like a boring chore, a ritual that has a far better place in Indian cricket's history. Dhoni, the batsman, had redeemed himself until the finishing line, but the finisher himself had stumbled and fallen, just short.

It ended with a six. And him, on the losing side.

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