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Not quite finished

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“The finisher is finished.” Sounds clever but is it really so? It is true that his form has not been very compelling of late but every batsman in history, save Bradman perhaps, battles poor form at intervals. The one thing we know is this: when it comes to chasing a challenging total in a limited overs game, there is no better batsman for India to have at the wicket than MS Dhoni.

Chasing, India has won 38 of 40 games when Dhoni stayed till the end. When the master run-chaser has been dismissed, however, they have won only 21 of 51 games. India’s captain has been an almost indispensable asset; one who will not be easily replaced.

 

Bad form is always an unwelcome visitor that often requires some cajoling to be sent back on its way. It comes to the overwhelming majority of those who play sport and so, a while ago, it called on Dhoni.

As he battled his way to 31 off 30 balls in the first One Day International (ODI) against South Africa in Kanpur, managing only a single boundary, it was apparent that he was not at his best. India was chasing 303. When the last over came, 11 runs were still required and Dhoni was facing 20-year-old pacer Kagiso Rabada. Disappointingly for India, their captain fell off the fourth ball and India lost by five runs.

After that display, the murmurs that accompanied Dhoni’s poor run were dramatically amplified into a shout. Talk that one of the game’s best finishers was now but a shadow of his former self became widespread. The finisher, in other words, was on the verge of being finished.

But was all that castigation fair to Dhoni? Was it fair to the man who had won countless games for his country, sealing many a victory in the last over, at times off the last ball?

It was not.

In a way, the uproar over Dhoni’s recent troubles is understandable. If you achieve high standards and maintain them for a long time then prepare to be held to those standards. Furthermore, sports fans are not really known for their tendency to exercise patience when their team is losing and their stars are failing.

 

And yet failure is an inextricable component of sport. One of my favourite television commercials was a Nike advert featuring Michael Jordan, Basketball’s greatest player: “I missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Sportsmen, in many cases, fail more often than they succeed. In football, for example, strikers miss more often than they score, and in baseball the best often fail seven out of every ten times at bat. Often we, as fans, don’t readily grasp this reality.

We have habitually been too hard on our sportsmen. Too frequently we treat them like machines rather than men (or women). As a boy in love with cricket and the West Indies team during their heyday, I used to believe that Viv Richards could score a century whenever he pleased. It took me a while to appreciate that even the greats cannot always be at the peak of their powers.

In 2004 the mighty Sachin Tendulkar entered a slump that never really ended until sometime in 2007. He then embarked upon what was the most productive period of his career. Brian Lara swung the most flamboyant, most untamable blade in cricket, yet for a period of almost two years in the late 1990s he never scored a test century. He returned to the top of his game when Australia visited the Caribbean for their 1998-99 tour, remaining there, more or less, for the remainder of his career.

Dhoni is 34. We all age at different rates, but at that age he should still have quite a bit of cricket left in him. He may not now be the combustible Dhoni of the helicopter shot, but he is still Dhoni, able still to place his side on his shoulders and bring them home safely.

India did not chase at Indore, scene of the second ODI in the series, but Dhoni’s 92 off 86 deliveries was easily the most substantial knock of the game. Importantly, India was in significant trouble when the seventh wicket fell in the 40th over with the score only 165. As he has done a number of times, Dhoni brought them out of trouble to a place of respectability. From there the bowlers made good use of the conditions to level the series at one game apiece.

To be sure, Dhoni’s Indore innings does not necessarily mean his troubles with form have disappeared. There needs to be more evidence before that can be accepted with any degree of confidence. Nonetheless, it was some sort of a riposte to those who had written him off, and seemed more than a credible start on the road back to being one of the most valuable limited overs players in the game.

We all should root for him to get there, for Dhoni is one of the most popular, most exciting players in cricket. And he’s not finished yet.

 


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I am from Jamaica, currently live in USA. Have followed cricket for a long time. Took to writing ab...

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