MS Dhoni is too old to still be playing for Team India. He can no longer hit the ball at will. The finisher that once enthralled fans is finished now. Just look at the number of deliveries he eats up in his innings. He's surely a liability for the Indian team. Dhoni is just occupying a Team India spot which can very well be used to accommodate a player that actually deserves it. Surely, we can't win the ICC World Cup with Dhoni in the side.
All these comments had haunted the former Indian captain in 2018, making it almost imperative for Dhoni to call it quits. But, there is a reason why this man is called 'Captain Cool'. The Jharkhand cricketer is one of those rare breeds of cricketers who thrive under pressure. You knock them down, they get right back up. You push them back, they come forward with rediscovered strength.
For someone who remains India's most popular and definitely the most scrutinised cricketer (barring Sachin Tendulkar), Dhoni was out of form and sorts before he travelled to Australia for the three-match ODI series.
With the critics watching his every move, waiting for him to fall, right before embarking on 'we hate Dhoni' bandwagon; the 37-year-old had everything to lose - his career, place in the side and, more importantly, a chance to play the 2019 ICC World Cup.
But, contrary to popular perception, Dhoni endured all the pressure before coming out on top with the last laugh against his critics - a script that has been the catalyst of each of his three innings in the One-Day International (ODI) series.
While he might have struggled with the willow last year, Dhoni, against all odds, has begun 2019 with three fifties in a row wherein two played a pivotal role in India's win.
It all began with the first ODI in Sydney where India found themselves in all sorts of trouble after losing three wickets for just four runs. Coming out to bat at the no. 4 slot, Dhoni partnered Rohit Sharma to stabilise the innings for his side as the duo added 137 runs for the fourth wicket.
While India failed to win the contest, many slammed Dhoni (despite being dismissed due to an umpiring howler) for his 51-run innings that came in 96 deliveries.
MS Dhoni's 10 years challenge
At the end of 2009, his ODI average was 50.82. Right now it is 50.81. It is 0.01 less but we will take it. #10yearchallenge
The second match at the Adelaide Oval saw the visitors in a similar situation, lagging behind in their run-chase early on and Dhoni in the mix, yet again. With Virat Kohli carrying the baton for his side, having already reached his fifty, Dhoni came to the crease with literally no one expecting anything from the veteran cricketer. Moreover, his slow start (12 runs off 21 balls), once again, had the naysayers convinced that it was going to be another 'MSD no-show'.
While Kohli was dismissed in the 44th over, Dhoni carried on playing with calculated risks, keeping India in the game, before exploding at the right time. By the time he was done, Dhoni had notched up his second consecutive fifty and first that came in a winning cause this year. His 54-ball 55 didn't just allow India to level the series 1-1 but also had the critics running for cover.
But, still, Dhoni needed to prove himself a bit more to really convince everyone that he was, indeed, important to the Indian team. And, as expected, he did it again.
With the three-match ODI series levelled at 1-1, it all boiled down to the final match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground where another MSD masterclass was waiting to steer India home.
A 230-run total (thanks to Yuzvendra Chahal's spin wizardry) was never going to be a tough ask for a strong batting side like India, but the loss of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli - with another 118 runs to get - had the Australians interested. But, Dhoni had other plans.
The 37-year-old stitched an unbeaten 121-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Kedar Jadhav (61*) who revelled in the supporting role. Once again, pacing his innings to perfection, Dhoni took the game till the very end, denying any hiccups that would've had Aussies smelling blood.
It was another fine showing by the former Indian captain and even if he was given three lives by the mediocre Australian side, it still shouldn't overshadow his contribution to the team.
3 fifties in a row. Highest Scorer for #TeamIndia in #AusvInd #ODI.
Total Runs 193, Avg 193 !!
They said he is finished,
They said he is old,
They said he is a liability,
They said he must make way.
He just smiled at all of them & let his willow do the talking #Dhoni #MSDhoni pic.twitter.com/BqnA3FZGIK
At a time, when the Indian cricket team is struggling to fill in the gaps in their middle-order, Dhoni's 'Man of the Series' performance in the ODI series has undeniably made him a worthy contender for the crucial no. 4 slot.
With India's top three raking in all the runs lately, India's middle-order woes weren't really exposed until the ODI series came calling. Going into the ICC World Cup in England, Dhoni - on the back of his consistent performances this year - has proved that he can adequately fit in the role as an important no. 4 batsman for his side.
While many will question the number of deliveries he ends up using to build his innings, or his inability to score quickly as he did earlier, Dhoni is still the man for the job (maybe in a different role).
In what appears to be his new avatar, MSD allows the batting to revolve around him as he holds the fort at the other end, playing the role of a sheet anchor - something that makes him a perfect fit for the vacant no. 4 slot.
In the age, where cricket continues to evolve, India must look at this old warhorse differently. Rather than looking at him as a finisher, we must value this gem of a cricketer in the new role that, not only makes him a valuable addition to the team but also gives him more purpose (like he needed one in the first place) to serve Indian cricket.