The day MS Dhoni almost found another MS Dhoni
A total of 2090 runs were scored in this India vs England ODI series – the most ever in a three-match ODI series. There was one miraculous run-chase and there were two nearly miraculous ones that waned at the brink of culmination. For all the bat versus bat talk, Chris Woakes, in the final over of the series – with his team defending 16 – showed that you can muscle a bowler out of the ground, but you can't take the muscle out of him.
The series was also special in myriad ways. One of them being the transition at the helm of the Indian team, and the changes that were expected to be born out of it. Two in particular – the nostradamic rise of Yuvraj Singh, and the resurgence of MS Dhoni – were both expected and wished for. When the anticipation of an event is high, it's realisation becomes all the more pleasant.
However, when the anticipation of something happening is not present and yet it transpires, it becomes a moment of unforeseen probability. Hence, when Kedar Jadhav smashed a six and a four off the first two deliveries of the final over of the series – with his team needing 16 off it – the smile on MS Dhoni's face was palpable.
Dhoni was still very much the finisher
Much freedom was expected, in terms of how the former Indian captain would like to bat after releasing the burden of leadership, but the team has not given him the luxury to do so – as far as this series is concerned. In Pune, he walked out to bat as early as in the 11th over, with his side three down for 56, chasing 351. Notwithstanding, he tried to bat freely and bat with intent, but perished in the process.
Changes are difficult, even for the most experienced of men.
In Cuttack, although the century after nearly four years did help him stamp his own authority over the series, he had to walk out in the 5th over itself, at 25/3. However, the resurgence thenceforth – perhaps made a bit easier with no target to chase – helped bring about a partnership that will be remembered by the ages to come, as the one wherein they saw two legends make a comeback in the same game, at the same time.
Here, in Kolkata, a rash stroke, perhaps brought about by the denial of singles by his partner at the other end – Jadhav – brought about his downfall. For all his deft cuts and glances behind the wicket, Jadhav's running between the wickets hasn't been at par with what the team has been witnessing and practising for the past year or so. At least for Virat Kohli and Dhoni, singles hold as much of a value as the big shots do, and on this front, one would feel, that Jadhav did put the two under some pressure in the series.
Hence, when Dhoni departed to leave India at 173/5 in the 32nd over, with India needing 149 off the next 18, the expectations of a miracle hit rock bottom. Yes, Jadhav had done it in Pune, but he had Kohli at the other end. Yuvraj and Dhoni at each other's company in Cuttack.
At the Eden, however, Jadhav had to make do with Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin – the latter two having next to no batting practice in the series. India crawled to 202 by the end of the 36th over to reduce the equation to 120 off 14.
While Jadhav had shown potential in Pune, the ability of the man the other end, and the two men to follow – in limited-overs cricket – had not been tested in recent times. Ashwin was playing his first ODI series since last January, and Jadeja's ability to handle pressure could not be written in stone.
Jadhav exceeds expectations
Only 8 runs are scored off the next 16 balls as the rate shoots up to over 9 per over. Dabs and flicks go to the men in the deep, strategically placed to cut off the boundaries, leaving giant spaces in the outfield. However, there are only singles taken, no doubles. At times, an enthusiastic Hardik sprints back for the second, assuming that a run could be taken for the throw - as most batsmen do these days - only to be sent back by Jadhav.
Jadhav's in a different frame of mind, it seems. Suddenly, out of a sudden gush of emotions, he flat-bats the length offered by Woakes over mid-off for a boundary. Next ball, Woakes goes full, perhaps trying to nail the yorker, but ends up bowling a low full toss. He gets whipped over long leg for another four.
Just like that, Jadhav releases the pressure. The required rate is still above 9, India need 104 off 11, but in a game of high-octane batting and insane run-scoring, required rates become that out-of-context stat that hides more than what it reveals.
The dugout bears a tensed look. Kohli is on his feet, hands-crossed, Rahane is pensive beside him. Yuvraj's in the last row, standing, having a close look at the game, although with a look of indifference on his face. Ashwin is padded up. All but two of the eleven men are perturbed, or at least they look so. But Dhoni and Jadhav aren't.
Dhoni is seated, calm in his demeanour, but perhaps with volcanoes bursting inside, hoping with all his faith accumulated that Jadhav does what he wants him to do.
Pandya's erraticism, marked by plays, misses and edges get balanced by Jadhav's calculated risk-taking endeavour. Pandya's outside edges fly for sixes and his uppercuts just cross the ropes, while Jadhav keeps shovelling the short balls over midwicket and square leg with the authority and the silence of a monk.
The equation's now down to 47 off 30 – gettable by T20 standards – as the tension switches dugouts. Trevor Bayliss exclaims something to one of his support staff. Perhaps after all the years of coaching the KKR, he still hadn't had a feel of the Eden.
England fall back on their wonder boy, Stokes – who was termed as a ‘nervous laddie’ by Marlon Samuels not so long ago – and he delivers. He uproots Pandya's middle-stump, as the latter's tryst with fortune and heroism comes to an end.
Tension switches places again, as Jadeja walks out. Dhoni is now standing with his arms behind his back, but nothing on his face.
The lower order shows promise
That Stokes over costs just 4, as the required rate crosses 10 for the first time in the innings. With emotions being as absent from his face as the sticker from his bat, Jadeja belts two consecutive boundaries in the 'V’ – one was a heave over mid-off and the other was a bullet so traceable that it made Ravi Shastri jump out of the commentary box and take a place near the boundary.
Earlier in the day, Nasser Hussain was urging the English bowlers to belt Jadeja in the ‘V.’ This was Jadeja giving some of it back. He didn't last long, though, as an attempt at a third boundary launched the ball straight to Bairstow at deep midwicket.
Ashwin walks out, and Hussain remarks that both the men at the crease now are slow runners between the wickets. Jadhav pays him little heed and smashes the very next ball straight down the ground for a boundary.
27 from 18, even at 7 down, looked to be India's game. That last boundary by Jadhav had got everyone pumping in the dugout. Kohli's exaggeration was visible, but Dhoni's was absent. Perhaps it was there – on the inside – and the former skipper was waiting for the opportune moment.
Stokes comes back to bowl his last. He had conceded just four in his previous over and concedes as many in this over too. Plus, he snarls Ashwin, whose wild swing lands in the hands of Woakes at mid-on.
Kohli's exuberation disappears, Pandya's face bears a morose look, and Dhoni turns around to say something to Yuvraj, who nods in approval. Perhaps it was his way to let out the pressure. Perhaps it was his way to clench his heartbreak within his teeth, and not let it go yet, because Jadhav was still at the crease.
23 from 12 with 2 wickets needed made it anybody's game. Jadhav makes room, Ball darts it very wide of off, outside the reach and outside the white line as well. Anil Chaudhary doesn't budge, though. The batsman was convinced, the commentators were convinced, and so was I, that it was a wide. Perhaps Chaudhary was making up for his partner's decision in the last over – a wide that should not have been.
Karma strikes in unprecedented and unfair ways. Jadhav had refused the doubles that were on offer earlier in the innings, and here he was, being denied of a legitimate delivery and an extra run.
He inside edges the next ball for four to bring up India's 300, and to my surprise - and perhaps everyone else's as well - Dhoni stands up and applauds. The Maharashtra man fails to connect a shot of substance, while refusing Bhuvneshwar Kumar a single, to make it 16 off the final over.
The hopes dwindle, for the penultimate over often decides the fate of the match – unless, of course, you are Carlos Brathwaite – and that over had cost just 7 runs. Jadhav takes strike and Woakes has the ball. The permutations are on, deciphering how and when should Jadhav go big – for he has to – given that there are only two wickets left.
That is too much to think for a space of six balls. At least Jadhav doesn't think that much. It was for that reason, perhaps, that he sits in his crease and smokes the first ball for a six over extra-cover, in a manner that can be best described as a spatula carving out a scoop from a tub of ice cream.
India almost find another Dhoni
16 off 6 would have necessitated a wild swing, at least one across the line aiming the traditional cow corner, but here was one of the most unbelievable shots to have been played with stakes that high. Before this ball, everyone wished that it were Dhoni instead of Jadhav. Everyone, perhaps barring Dhoni himself. For the best finisher in the world had sensed that he had found his successor.
Jadhav plays the same shot, over the same extra-cover region, only this time for a four, to convince Dhoni that the heir had been named. The equation is 6 off 4, and Kohli is pumped. Kohli being pumped is obvious, but it is the smile on Dhoni's face that has everyone dropping their jaws.
The grin that the 35-year-old has on his face isn't ordinary. It isn't even seen in its magnanimity quite often. Dhoni has given way to his emotions, knowing very little, that he had given it way a bit too soon.
Woakes bowls two dots back-to-back. One is nailed straight to mid-off, and the other is very full, and just sneaks under Jadhav's bat. Take that from a man who has just been smashed for 10 from his first two balls, defending only 16.
Jadhav calls for a change of bat, the game slows down, and the anticipation is sky-high now. The unforeseen has happened, and now that it has happened, the expectations are high. Perhaps it was the new bat or the burden that it had despite being a new one that led to Jadhav's downfall, and also that of India's chances, when he sliced another out-of-the-reach ball towards deep point, but straight to Sam Billings.
From an attempt at the unexpected, from another shot at glory for the little man, and from the hopes of India (including Dhoni) finding another Dhoni, we were now left with Bhuvneshwar Kumar who was expected to nail his first ball, and the series' last for a six.
We had had enough miracles for the day. India knew it, and so did Dhoni. Kumar nearly connected that wild slog over the leg side for six, England nearly lost to India again, and India nearly found another Dhoni.