In the 45th over of West Indies’ innings, Devendra Bishoo tries to poke at a conventional leg spinner from Kuldeep Yadav. The ball rises up more than Bishoo anticipated and takes a faint outside edge. On usual days, these edges end up safely in Dhoni’s gloves almost as clockwork. It has almost been taken for granted.
‘If it takes an edge, Dhoni will grab it’. This has been usual- like another breakfast, like the unfolding of a usual day in a corporate job, like a routine tooth brushing, like sunsets and sunrises. It is meant to be. It has to happen. This time it doesn’t.
It is not the best of times Dhoni finds himself in. In the 5th ODI against West Indies, chasing a modest 190, India panted their way and then collapsed at the doorstep. With one of the slowest half-century in recent memory, Dhoni was at the centre of attention for wrong reasons.
The anatomy of a Dhoni chase has two parts: Playing slowly until the task starts to look difficult and then, with wickets in hand, going for the kill. Of late, Dhoni has managed to do only the first step right and then fell in a bid to accelerate.
It has been something very difficult to digest- because we aren’t used to it. We are used to his unique style and most of us have grown from becoming the sceptic of that technique to trusting that. Time and again, our belief has been reinforced by those chanceless chases in pressure cooker games. Like the dropped catch, the aberration in this flawless ability of his is not usual.
The best part is that the decision makers are not in doubt. “We don’t need to tell him how to play a situation or how to build an innings,” Kohli had told one of the journalists in the post-match interview.
Despite Kohli’s beliefs, the voices that are questioning Dhoni’s contribution to the ODI squad are only getting louder. At 36, he is certainly not getting any younger and it is that tricky age in one’s cricket career when the media and fans are scrutinising your odd failures from closer angles.
With the likes of Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan waiting in the wings, the cricket statisticians and number-crunching cricket pundits have all the data to make an excellent case for Dhoni to retire. His recent dip in form, the fact that he has failed to finish games in recent past, his ever-plunging strike rate and his inconsistency with the bat – all are being used to write scathing articles on Dhoni. The recent numbers are certainly against him.
But he has more to offer
But Dhoni is more than recent numbers. He is not someone who will end up at the top of all elusive cricket records. He is not the star batsmen of the team - Virat Kohli wears that hat. He is not the flashy opener who changes games – Rohit Sharma is.
He is the lynchpin, the adhesive that binds this young team. He is the silent figure standing at the centre of this team – guiding them across the choppy waters. He guides Kohli when to bring in mid-off and when to send that fielder to long-off.
He stands at the vantage point of a wicketkeeper and runs the operations from an angle no other fielder can. He eggs on Jadeja to stick to the stump line- because he knows Jadeja is not a big turner of the ball.
India’s ‘Captain Cool’ signals Ashwin to drop the ball wide when the batsman is frequently leaving his crease. He is the mastermind – plotting all plans and yet without a hint of smugness- smoothly passing over the baton to Kohli.
And rest assured, when he does, we will not just be a batsman short, or a wicket keeper short, or a leader short. It will be a bigger void. A Dhoni-sized void.