With his place in the ODI outfit coming increasingly under the scanner, MS Dhoni served a timely reminder of his prowess to help India clinch the series against Australia with his third consecutive half-century.
The veteran wicketkeeper’s waning powers with the bat has seen calls for his axing from the ODI squad increase over the past year or so and the emergence of Rishabh Pant in international cricket hadn’t helped his cause.
A dismal 2018 with the bat in the 50-over format which saw him fail to register a single half-century in 13 innings meant that the noose was tightening around Dhoni’s neck going into the series against Australia.
The signal that his place in the side was under threat had been made when he was dropped from the T20 outfit in the home series against West Indies as well as the following one against Australia.
As such, the pressure was well and truly on the veteran’s shoulders when the ODI series against the Aussies began. One more false step from Dhoni could have seen the curtains come down on his illustrious career just months before the World Cup in England.
With the chips down, Dhoni responded in splendid fashion to silence his critics with a man-of-the-series display Down Under. His batting was immediately thrust into the spotlight in the series opener as a top-order collapse saw India slump to 4-3.
The right-hander helped the visitors regroup in the company of Rohit Sharma but his 96-ball 51 in a losing cause only served to increase the pressure on his shoulders. More question marks were raised at his strike-rate which hovered around the 50 mark with the precarious situation Dhoni had walked in to bat conveniently ignored.
That criticism only spurred Dhoni on even further with the wicketkeeper notching up an unbeaten match-winning fifty in the must-win clash at Adelaide. For good measure, Dhoni even hit a sumptuous six off the last over of the innings to bring up his half-century. It was as if the old horse was trying to prove a point to his critics that he can still roll back the years and bring out the big shots when needed.
A chase of 231 in the deciding ODI was a situation perfectly tailored for Dhoni to do his thing and the stalwart did not disappoint with an unbeaten 114-ball 87 to help India cross the finish line.
A series aggregate of 193 runs with just one dismissal will go a long way towards silencing his detractors and his performances could very well have confirmed his ticket to the World Cup as India’s first-choice wicketkeeper.
Dhoni’s performance, coupled with Ambati Rayudu’s failure at number four, has also thrown up an interesting proposition for Virat Kohli and India. Though he walked in to bat at No5 in the first two ODIs, Dhoni looked good in the number four spot in the decider and could be a good bet in that role during the World Cup.
With a top-heavy batting order at the moment, India are currently lacking a truly explosive batsman lower down the order. Dinesh Karthik has shown that he can be a good finisher when the asking-rate is high but what India would dearly love right now is a batsman in the mould of Yuvraj Singh.
The left-hander was key for India with his batting in the lower middle-order in India’s 2011 World Cup win. With his strike-rate, Dhoni could be ideal for India at No4 given he usually takes some time before he gets going.
“It’s not about where you want to be, it’s about how many you can fill in that position. I’m happy to bat at any number. If I have to go back and bat at five or six, I’m happy to do that. Because the important thing is where the team needs me,” Dhoni had stated after India’s series clinching win on Friday.
With Karthik in the finisher’s role at six, India could afford to play an attacking batsman at number five. Kedar Jadhav showed that he can perform that part with his attacking half-century in the series decider but India could still consider Pant purely as a batsman in that role.
With his ability to accelerate from the very go, Pant could be used as a trump card in the number slot and India would be wise to let him audition for that part in the coming months.
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