MS Dhoni’s IPL 2018 Form Vital for India’s 2019 World Cup campaign
MS Dhoni’s IPL 2018 form vital for India’s 2019 World Cup campaign
If you could sum up Chennai Super Kings’ victorious campaign during the eleventh edition of the Indian Premier League in two words, ‘MS Dhoni’ would be it. The side resonated characters which have become a hallmark of the wicketkeeper-batsman over the years. Taking the game deep, believing it’s not over till it is over, the ability to remain calm when it gets to a stage where the bowler feels more pressure than you - we’ve all heard it before but it is one thing to say it and other to execute it.
Kagiso Rabada, Dwayne Bravo and Neville Madziva, all found ways to push Dhoni to the wrong end of the result after a plethora of good ones. Naturally, Dhoni’s place in the side was being debated.
Should he be playing the Twenty20 Internationals? Why are holding onto him for a spot when a youngster can be groomed. He enjoyed the confidence of the captain and it seemed like the only reason he played the shortest format of the game was to stay fit and playing cricket regularly since he was a guaranteed starter in the 2019 World Cup next year.
Dhoni answered his critics with aplomb in the recently concluded edition of IPL. He began in his usual take-your-time-before-exploding manner it looked like we might again have vultures of uncertainty around him but come the game against Kings XI Punjab, Dhoni opened up.
Despite nursing an injured back, Dhoni accelerated like only he can to pummel an unbeaten 79 before Mohit Sharma held onto his nerve in the final over. The nation was rejoicing, having got a glimpse of the vintage Dhoni. There was still a thought that the one special knock had come, will it happen again?
Teams have resorted to two plans against Dhoni to keep him quiet. The first being starting with spin before going to the pacers, asking them to bowl wide Yorkers like Mohit Sharma did in the previous game. His biggest supporter in Virat Kohli, used the two tactics when Bangalore hosted Chennai but Dhoni squashed both plans into the drain.
He hitPawan Negi for a six just two balls into his innings - something that would wake up many cricket statisticians to get to the earlier instance of such event. He smartly played out RCB’s main bowlers but ensured Negi was hit for maximums to stay in touch with the requirement of the game.
Dhoni’s had a penchant for smashing medium pace bowlers and while one can argue that there are plenty of those around in the IPL, it is not talked about when he fails to finish games against them.
With 30 needed from 12 balls, the plan was clear to bowl full and wide outside off. Siraj executed the plan to perfection for the first four deliveries but the fifth one left him shattered. Dhoni somehow managed to get under the wide one and sliced it over backward point for a maximum! Siraj had his hand over his mouth, in disgust as if he was ripped apart in open. Kohli could only shake his head in disbelief.
At times, it’s only about winning such small moments which make you what you are and Dhoni won those in abundance. The six resulted in Siraj losing his confidence, bowling three wides, effectively conceding 5 runs off his final ball of the spell.
Dhoni scored 455 runs in 15 games in the tournament, at an outlandish strike rate of 150.66! Those are the numbers that you wouldn’t associate with Dhoni but it is this form which bodes well for India going into the 2019 World Cup.
Dhoni’s often talked about the presence of bowling all-rounders after him in the batting order which hasn’t allowed him to play freely but come the ODIs against England, India have the luxury of two good lower order batsman in the form of Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya.
Dhoni played a role of the aggressor and India can use him to do the same by batting him at No. 5 followed by Karthik, who is batting like a dream, finished games for fun for his side, Kolkata Knight Riders. The presence of Hardik Pandya should give Dhoni enough room to express himself.
Dhoni is someone who loves to keep playing to be at his best and it is probably why he was training at the NCA, ahead of his departure. When he takes the flight to England, he will know that to take the next one a year later, he will have to keep doing what he did in the last two months. The race for places is hotting up but nobody can replace his experience, game awareness and ability to absorb pressure. India will need all of those in the World Cup and if all goes well, hopefully, Dhoni will indeed finish things off in style….