Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s rise from a young captain who loved to gamble with big decisions to one of the sharpest cricketing minds ever has been one of the most fascinating stories in Indian cricket. While Dhoni’s return to competitive cricket after close to a year continues to get delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, his fans are taking refuge in watching or reading up about ‘Mahi’s’ past exploits.
While we all wait for cricket to begin and Dhoni to return to action, here’s a look back at five instances which changed the fortunes of India and also of few players because of just one man – MS Dhoni!
Giving Joginder Sharma that last over
Harbhajan Singh had one over left but Dhoni left everyone scratching their heads when he handed over the last over of ICC World T20 final in 2007 to medium-pacer Joginder Sharma. Pakistan needed 13 runs to become first-ever T20 champions of the world and they had Misbah-ul-Haq at crease who was batting at 37* off 35 deliveries.
Dhoni took a chance with Joginder because Misbah had smashed three sixes off Harbhajan in the 17th over. Joginder started off with a wide as hearts of a billion Indians collectively sank. The first official delivery was a dot and then Misbah hit a straight six. But as Indian heads started to drop, Misbah went for the paddle shot over short-fine leg but ended up hitting the ball into the hands of Sreesanth. Dhoni’s magical captaincy career had just begun with a historic title in Johannesburg.
Dropping Sourav Ganguly-Rahul Dravid from ODIs
There are big names in world cricket and then there are huge names in world cricket. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid belong to the latter group. The former India captains together amassed almost 23,000 runs in 50-over format during the course of their illustrious careers.
In 2008, Dhoni committed the blasphemy of dropping these two from Indian squad for tri-series in Australia involving Sri Lanka. When asked, then BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah had said ‘the emphasis was on fielding abilities and chief selectors and team management wanted a young fielding side for the tour’.
In hindsight, this is the exact moment in Indian cricket when fielding became an equal ability as batting and bowling. The change in culture resulted in India being regarded as one of the best fielding sides in the world, if not the best. Not to forget their first-ever tri-series win in Australia.
Promoting himself to number 5 in 2011 World Cup final
The biggest stage of them all… chasing a stiff target of 275… Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli back in the hut… still needing 161 to win with Lasith Malinga in full flow. This was the situation when Dhoni opted to walk out in the middle of the park at the packed Wankhede, where Indian fans were seeing their World Cup dream quickly turning into a nightmare.
The true sign of a leader is that he turns up when it matters the most and that is what Dhoni did when he came at number four, ahead of specialist Yuvraj Singh.
Dhoni struck a majestic 91* as India were crowned World Champions for the second time in the history of the tournament. Gautam Gambhir’s 97 bailed India out of trouble but Dhoni’s six took them over the line on the historic occasion. A World Cup final man of the match trophy sits pretty in Dhoni’s illustrious cabinet, something which is not given away but earned.
Rotating Tendulkar/ Sehwag/ Gambhir in CB series 2012/13
India tend to worship players more than the sport itself and that is why certain god-like figures in the dressing room get more time than the others before they have to see teammates play from the bench or on TV for that matter. Dhoni ensured the change in culture came about during his time at helm as after opting for ‘better fielders’ in 2008, he now decided to rotate the trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir during the 2012 CB series tri-series in Australia.
Despite having impeccable record at the top of the order, the trio didn’t feature together in the line-up right through the course of the series as Dhoni kept rotating between them. India ended up not qualifying for the final but the poor show from the openers did point out that India needed an overhaul at the top of the order.
Promoting Rohit Sharma as opener
The year 2013 was special for Dhoni because this is when he became the only captain to win World T20, World Cup and Champions Trophy titles. This is also the same year when he changed the fortunes of an inconsistent cricketer, who was still trying to cement his place in the side.
Rohit Sharma was part of the Indian set-up since 2007 but wasn’t able put on consistent performances that would have helped him become a regular. Dhoni first gave him a chance to open the innings in 2011 during the South Africa tour but he could muster just 29 runs in three innings.
In January 2013, he was given the chance once more to shine at the top against England and Rohit smashed 83 runs in Mohali and never looked back since. From middle-order obscurity to one of the most explosive openers in the game, Rohit has come a long way since. He still tips his hat to Dhoni with an occasional double century for changing his fortunes and the betterment of Indian cricket as a whole.
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