For a man who was heavily criticised and consistently bashed for his slump in form in 2018, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has made the naysayers eat their own words on the back of a prolific showing in the new year. The ever-reliable cricketer had a brilliant outing in Australia where he produced clinical batting performances that had eluded him the previous year.
The 37-year-old smashed three consecutive fifties, wherein two of those paved the way for India's triumph, further helping the visitors to secure a historic bilateral ODI series win. In the three matches he played, Dhoni emerged as the leading run-scorer for India, amassing 193 runs at an average of over 190. Such was his performance with the willow that it eventually earned him the 'Man of the Series' award following India's 2-1 triumph in the series.
While his weren't exactly the slambang innings we once associated with Dhoni, his calculated knocks, produced on the back of great composure and temperament, gave us all a glimpse of his new role in the team. With over 10,000 ODI runs to his name, Dhoni is the kind of player that a side needs to bolster their middle-order. And, adapting himself to his new role, Dhoni continues to add value to the Indian team.
Following his prolific showing Down Under, the Indian cricketer now gears up for the five-match ODI series against New Zealand. Owing to his return to form, Dhoni is likely to play a pivotal role if India intend to upset the Kiwis in their own backyard. And, ahead of the first ODI at McLean Park, the right-hander has found a new challenge - thanks to Mike Hesson.
Preparing to halt India's marauding run, the Kiwis would have surely kept close tabs on Dhoni in a bid to prepare themselves for the Indian middle-order batsman. Thus, there was no surprise to see Hesson being overwhelmed by Dhoni's heroics in Australia. "Runs just shows the value of experience. Most players in the world would have panicked considering the situation Dhoni was in, but he looked calmer than anybody else. It suggests that he has been in this situation many times before and knows how to pace a chase," the New Zealand coach told Cricket Next.
"Challenge for Dhoni is going to be when the side is batting first, how hard he needs to go. In terms of chasing a total, which is still the hardest thing in cricket, he is a genius," the New Zealand coach added.
Dismissed due to an umpiring error in the first ODI, Dhoni took the matters in his own hands with a much-improved showing in Sydney and Melbourne. His unbeaten knock of 54 helped his side in levelling the proceedings in Sydney, while an 87-run innings in Melbourne sealed the game and series for India.
With India chasing in all the three ODIs Down Under, Dhoni was seen adapting to the ever-changing match situations and pacing his innings accordingly - something that he has mastered over the years. During a run-chase, cricketers are generally in a better frame of mind as far as their approach is concerned. But, what happens when India are batting first? How would Dhoni go about his business then? He surely doesn't have the luxury of pacing his innings according to the asking-rate. That's the challenge Hesson has pointed out.
If India bats first, Virat Kohli and his teammates will have to combine together to post a total which they feel is a competitive one. And, that is where Dhoni's presence of mind and experience will come into play as, like Hesson, the fans back home, too, would be eager to see how this old warhorse goes about his business then.
It's the test of assumptions and, then, playing accordingly to aid the team's cause. A tricky, but a crucial test nonetheless. Will he take his time, again, to build the innings? Or, we'd see the explosive side of Dhoni that has eluded him in recent times? All those questions might get answered when Team India locks horns with New Zealand in the first ODI at the McLean Park in Napier on 23rd January.