It’s the 2000s. Facebook and social media, in general, have just started becoming a fad in India. The Men In Blue have had countless recent renditions of their age-old rivalry with Pakistan and T20 cricket has just begun permeating the cricketing ecosystem. Fans are packed to the rafters at stadiums too.
The Indian cricket team, meanwhile, has developed a habit of chasing down totals in ODI cricket and seems to be on the verge of a white-ball revolution. Rahul Dravid has been at the helm long enough and has tried everything at his disposal to optimize the talent in India’s ranks.
In one such game, the Men in Blue find themselves in a bit of strife. They are chasing down a lofty total and have seen their top-order batters perish after laying the platform. For all intents and purposes, the whole of India thinks that this game is done – that this game has reached a point of no return and can’t be redeemed.
All of a sudden, a long-haired guy, while tightening his gloves and trying to adjust his helmet, walks to the centre. He has seen the debris, has assessed it and has evolved a blueprint in his head. In the meantime, countless cricket fans have delivered their verdict – India, barring a miracle, have no business winning this match. And, then, the miracle happens. Or, more precisely, MS Dhoni happens.
For several years, this was the narrative the Chennai Super Kings and the Indian faithful were treated to. Dhoni regularly walked into hopeless situations and bent them to his liking, courtesy of his blend of brute power and calculative thinking.
As the 2020s dawned, though, his powers began waning significantly. So much so that a lot of experts suggested that CSK were a team of 10 players and one captain, with Dhoni being the latter. To be fair to them, they weren’t dumbfounded as well.
Before Qualifier 1 against the Delhi Capitals, Dhoni had accumulated a grand total of 96 runs in 14 games – a tally unheard of, especially for those who had ridden the Dhoni wave of optimism in the 2000s and the 2010s.
Thus, when he strode out to bat, with the equation still reading 24 off 11 balls, there were palpable murmurs of discontent. Obviously not from those at the ground because, well, Dhoni, despite his dwindling returns, is still a crowd-puller but from the more ardent cricket watchers.
Remember, this was the 2021 version of Dhoni – a version that had huffed and puffed even when trying to rotate the strike. And, here he was – trying to salvage a situation that was on the brink of turning pear-shaped. The fact that he promoted himself ahead of Ravindra Jadeja – arguably India’s best finisher, also didn’t go down too well.
But then, like it almost always happens in movies, the protagonist had the platform to himself – the platform to not just silence his doubters but also force people to reminisce about the good old times. Or more precisely, the times when Dhoni was indomitable at the death.
MS Dhoni clobbered the Delhi Capitals bowlers into submission
Much like yesteryear, Dhoni glided to the centre tightening his gloves and assessing what was around him. His first challenge was to overcome Avesh Khan, who lest one forgets, had already accounted for the former Indian skipper twice this season.
Dhoni, rather unsurprisingly, swung like a rusty gate on the opening ball he faced. The murmurs of discontent had morphed into clamours now and it seemed that Dhoni – the master tactician had blundered catastrophically.
From the batter’s perspective, though, there was utter silence – a silence of reconciliation (perhaps) that the finisher might not be able to finish things off this time out.
Then, a sound similar to a gunshot was heard. A moment later, a white spherical object, armed with its unique projectile, was launched into the crowd. And, that was how those memories from the 2000s came gushing back.
Dhoni was back in his element and had ventured into his territory – the last over of a cricket match, with the bowler feeling just as much pressure as the batter and of course, a situation where the first to blink is usually the first to lose. Oh, there, he is almost incomparable.
In the final over, despite Moeen Ali departing on the first ball, the CSK faithful seemed in high spirits. After all, they had seen their Thala clatter a six into the stands – something that hadn’t happened before in the UAE leg of IPL 2021.
On the second ball of the over, Dhoni leapt into the air, pulled out his sword like a samurai warrior and scythed Tom Curran over extra cover. The Englishman, who seemed on cloud nine having outwitted his compatriot, was now feeling the pinch.
In essence, all of Curran’s worst nightmares were nudging the realms of reality. He had somehow managed to get Dhoni into his groove and now also had the small matter of defending nine runs. And, Curran cracked.
A ball later, Dhoni had an uncharacteristically ugly swipe across the line. For a change, fortune favored the former Indian cricket team wicket-keeper, with the ricochet racing away to the fine leg fence. Post that event, CSK needed 5 off 3 balls.
That was then followed up by a wide, meaning that when Dhoni whacked the fourth ball past deep mid-wicket, the game already seemed in the bag.
Just like the old times, CSK had marched into the final and Dhoni had waltzed away – far from the spotlight of having pulled another victory out of the fire and further away from the critics querying if the finisher was finished.
Having said that, though, it would be extremely naïve to even suggest that the former Indian skipper is back to his best or that he would be able to replicate such magic every time he bats. Years ago, that was the norm but these days, it has become the glorious aberration. There are no two ways about it too.
That, however, doesn’t take anything away from what Dhoni accomplished against DC. To an extent, this was eerily reminiscent of the way he approached run-chases back in the 2000s, when he didn’t have a care in the world and just tried to slaughter each white spherical object that came his way. He did pretty well too.
This, by the way, could also be the last time Dhoni bats in any kind of competitive cricket. Ever.
From that perspective alone, it is perhaps poetic that the wicket-keeper has finished things off in style – much like he has done throughout his career and akin to the belligerent imprint he has left on the cricketing landscape since the 2000s.
Maybe this was Dhoni reincarnated from the 2000s. Things were good back then and even though the good times may never return as voluminously, they can, once in a while.
Not just to remind who Dhoni once was or to portray what he can be on an odd decent day. But also, to illustrate that he will remain incomparable in so many ways!