SK Elite: When MS Dhoni sold assurance in Adelaide
Assurance is a peculiar human feeling. Virtually every aspect of your human life somehow seems to have an undertone that craves assurance. Even in the most adventurous of your pursuits, the inner-you craves a sense of assurance. On a roller coaster, you’re tempted to double check your seatbelt, just to be sure. Before you invest in a smartphone, all those tech reviews that you watch on YouTube is evidence of just how sure you want to be.
Then there’s sport. A facet of human life that thrives on the USP that proffers uncertainty in the end result. And then there’s cricket. A game, as they say, of glorious uncertainties. A game of various narratives. A game that allowed a man from the hinterlands of India to rise and do something unimaginable. Something that people from his part of the world are not supposed to do. He’s someone who sells assurance in this game of glorious uncertainties. He is Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
On one such occasion, at the hallowed Adelaide Oval in Australia, no, not the modern behemoth, but the old classic Adelaide Oval with that beautiful Cathedral visible in the backdrop, Indian fans craved assurance. Up to that point, India had done decently but they weren’t the side that won the 2008 CB series. This was a side which had apparent cracks evident on the face of it. There was a brewing media narrative that hinted at a possible Senior vs Junior conflict. With so much happening off the field, there was still a game of cricket to be played and won. But how do you return to the game when there’s so much that is happening in the background. As it turns out, that’s a normal day for MS.
And so, just like that, he comes in to bat with his team, not for the first time, in a spot of bother. And not for the first time, everyone, from the ones in the crowd to the ones back home glued to their TVs, seeked assurance. He walked in with India at 178-4, needing another 92 to win off the next 15 overs. Not a towering ask by any standards, let alone MS’. But the issue was never at MS’ end, it was at the other. He was running out of partners. When Suresh Raina yorked himself and got out with India needing another 31 off 23 balls, there was cause for concern.
The bowlers operating were Xavier Doherty and Clint McKay. Both of them seemed to have specific plans in place for the death overs and executed them exceptionally. So it boiled down to the final six deliveries with India needing 13 to win. McKay, who had bowled extremely tights lines until then, was to bowl this over. At the non-striker’s end was R. Ashwin, someone who has enough batting prowess himself.
At the striker’s end was someone who owned this territory. Someone who sold maximum assurances in this territory. The death overs. The last few countable deliveries. The sweaty palm and cold feet territory. But none of that was really evident on this man’s face.
The first ball from McKay and Ashwin fails to connect! No run off the first ball. Pressure mounting. The equation is now 13 from 5. The next one, Ash hits to deep mid-wicket and scampers for a single. There’s ample time for a second but MS refuses. Raises his hand almost as if to indicate, ‘I’ve got this’.
Belief! The one word that this merchant of assurance seems to have in abundance. While everyone watches restlessly, he stands there like he has the script of the next 4 balls in his head. Like he has lived this innings in his head already and he knows just what is required of him. So, in runs McKay to bowl the third ball of what was until then an excellent final over.
A length ball just outside off-stump. Now, just for a moment, forget that you’ve watched this game, forget that you know this series ever happened and try to predict the outcome of that ball. 113 meters over the longest boundary in Australia! Under that kind of pressure, with all that’s happening off the field, to pummel one of the longest sixes in the history of that stadium is just bonkers!
With those hawk-like eyes, he waits for the next ball which is a waist-high no-ball. He hits it straight to the fielder at deep square-leg and runs two. The equation is now down to 3 to win off 2 balls. He clips the next one behind square on the leg side and runs those three runs.
Just after he completes this phenomenal run chase, there’s a small issue of raising the bat towards the dressing room and plucking out the souvenir stump. Not for once does it show on his face that he has pulled off a near-miraculous run-chase. That he has achieved something that seemed improbable five balls ago. Just that sly smile on his face.
Maybe, just maybe, he knew that he had successfully sold assurance to an entire nation, yet again.