Australia vs India 2018-19: MS Dhoni proves his value to the team as he finishes as the highest run-getter in ODI series
The biggest question at the end of India's home series against West Indies was MS Dhoni's position in the team. The squad for two T20 tournaments was announced, and for the first time in 14 years, his name was missing from the squad - while not owing to rest or injury.
The fans knew that the team management was not planning for the World Cup without Dhoni, but till Christmas Eve, everyone was worried.
The big news on Christmas Eve was that Dhoni was selected for the squad for 11 straight limited-overs internationals in Australia and New Zealand, including the T20Is. Everyone now knew that one of India's biggest match winners was in India's World Cup plans.
But he still had to prove his form Down Under - for the nation, for the team and for his own confidence as well.
The very first ODI of the year, Dhoni was in within the first four overs. No, he was not promoted high up the order. He was back to his number five position yes, but he and his team had a mountain to climb with 285 runs still needed to win.
At that stage, Dhoni did exactly what was required of him: hang around.
A relatively in-form Rohit Sharma played what was an innings for the ages, but Dhoni reaching 50 was also a personal milestone after more than a year without a half-century. He could not reach the finishing stages of the match as a bad LBW decision by the umpire ended his innings.
Whether he could have accelerated at some point before reaching his fifty is an argument that will never end.
In the second ODI though, he did something he hasn't done too often in recent years. With the team requiring almost seven an over from 20-odd overs, Dhoni did not let the run rate climb too high.
He had Kohli at the other end, but after the former's departure everything was up to Dhoni. And he did not disappoint one bit on this occasion.
In the third ODI, he was pushed to a position he does not bat at too often - number four. 172 runs were still needed in 33.4 overs, with the openers going cheaply. After a long time, Dhoni had to not only do the finishing job, but tackle the middle overs as well.
Dhoni's big challenge in today's match at Melbourne, just like the previous one at Adelaide, was finishing the job after Kohli was gone. His confidence in himself began to show. It seemed he had realized his newfound limitations - he knew he couldn't leave things for too late at this stage of his career.
Today's game saw a tight period around the 40th over when the team - already requiring over seven an over - could hardly find any runs despite a partnership emerging.
But the key was that Dhoni did not panic. Had he panicked and holed out, things might have boiled over - which would have been disastrous at this stage, when the nation was on the verge of a rare bilateral series victory in Australia.
Yes, you and can still criticize Dhoni for many things he did wrong in this match. But his presence at the crease was what sealed the series for India; he was pivotal in both of the must-win matches that India won, after losing the first one.
We cannot forget the efforts of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and Yuzvendra Chahal in this series victory either. But Dhoni's presence at the helm was the icing on the cake India required during the build-up to the World Cup.
Dhoni finished the series with 193 runs from 3 innings at an average of 193 and a strike rate of 72.83. He was also named Man of the Series for his efforts, proving how valuable he still is to the team.