One can’t help now but feel that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has calculated this. For that is what he does and does very well. He sits and he calculates. And mostly, he wins.
Against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the Chennai Super Kings batting unit struggled right from the start. Dale Steyn took two wickets in the first over and CSK never quite got going after that. Even when Dhoni came in to bat, RCB remained in charge.
But the CSK skipper, as he so often does, took stock and then plotted his side’s comeback. He did it in the usual yet not-so-usual way. He took it deep and then launched a punishing assault – the kind we haven’t seen in years – that almost took his team to victory.
With Chennai needing 26 off the last over, Dhoni hit a four and three sixes to alter the equation to two runs needed off the final ball. Two to win and one to take the match into the super over. But, he somehow didn’t connect with Umesh Yadav’s last ball, a slower one, and saw his partner Shardul Thakur being run out by Parthiv Patel.
CSK lost but most fans didn’t seem to care. They had seen Dhoni produce a knock for the ages. This was the Dhoni of old: finishing (well, almost) a match with such cold-hearted calmness that one could see the bowlers falter in their stride.
At one point, he had scored 43 off 33 balls. Then, he accelerated. He finished with 84 off 48. In a sense, this was Dhoni taking off the shackles and just going for it.
When he played the matches against Australia at the start of 2019, there was an inescapable feeling of rustiness; a rustiness that comes with age and perhaps not playing enough cricket. He seemed to be that one step slower, the power wasn’t there and while he was capable of helping India finish games, he wasn’t quite finishing them himself.
There was talk in some quarters whether Rishabh Pant or Dinesh Karthik should be drafted into the squad. But to captain Virat Kohli, all that talk was rubbish.
“For me, loyalty matters the most. When I walked into the team, he had the chance of trying someone else after a few games. Although I did grab my opportunities really early, but he gave me the opportunity to understand my game and take the time required,” Kohli recently said in an interview to TV channel India Today.
Kohli added: “So for me, those things are very important because I know the kind of phase I was going through. And if he’s going through a phase where he has to work things out, he deserves that respect. It’s not like I gave it to him. You look at what he has done for the country, no one can give him that space. He deserves it. So we were just doing our bit to tell people to think in the same manner. It’s not like we are giving him something, he deserves it.”
But perhaps most importantly, Kohli had all the time in the world for Dhoni not just because he respects him, but because he trusted his ability.
“He’s intelligent enough to know what’s going on in his game and in his cricket. So it was important to give him space. People didn’t have patience at that time but now after 12 months, people are saying that he is the most important factor in the World Cup, which is true. We knew it deep down all along, it was just about letting that phase go through. He is what he is. We don’t need to discuss that,” Kohli had said.
The best athletes look to peak for the big events. They plan their itineraries, their diet, their training, their exposure, their performances… all of it in a bid to be at their best for the big events. And much of this year has seen Dhoni do exactly that.
Brick-by-brick, his game is coming together. He never lost it completely but the time away from the game seemed to make many forget how truly devastating he can be. He didn’t care. He knew. He calculated. He worked it out. And now, he looks like he may reach the crescendo during the World Cup.
There’s a saying that good things come to those who wait – provided you have the ability to wait long enough. Well, Dhoni has always had that ability and when the World Cup comes around, India will be waiting too.