IT HADN’T been classic MS Dhoni till the innings hurtled towards his favourite scenario — the last-over shootout. He was still batting on 45 off 34 balls though. There had been a couple of those characteristically clubbed boundaries in the two overs leading up to now. It still somehow hadn’t looked or sounded like what we’ve been accustomed to expect of a Dhoni innings. For someone playing his first competitive match in over two months, he didn’t look rusty. But the ball hadn’t quite found the middle of the bat as often. There had been more clumsy thwacks than sweet tonks.
Most of his runs had come off deflections than any power-packed strokes. The first boundary was a swivel pull, where he helped a short delivery from David Willey along to the right of the backward square-leg fielder. The second came off a mis-field at deep extra cover. But Dhoni was still scoring at well over run-a-ball. And with only the last over to go, the stage was set for him.
Chris Woakes was clearly England’s most consistent seamer during the Test series. And he’d started the one-day leg of the tour well too with the new-ball on Tuesday. Now he had Dhoni to contend with the final six deliveries of the innings.
It didn’t start well for Woakes as Dhoni swung the first delivery, full and angling in, over the square-leg fence for six. It wasn’t the usual Dhoni six, where his forearms provide most of the power and it’s all muscle. Here it was about getting his body into position, getting the right angles, and using it as a lever to pummel the ball across the line. The ball did still travel quite a distance. He repeated the shot a few balls later though this one went more towards mid-wicket. It was more body than just hands again, and the direction the ball travelled in had more to do with the line of ball with Woakes pitching it closer to off. In between the two sixes were two fours. The first was a slice over the short thirdman fielder followed by a top-edge that flew past wicket-keeper Jos Buttler.
Woakes does possess a mean yorker in his arsenal. But he wasn’t the first bowler to be completely put off by a Dhoni onslaught. Like he has so often in his career, Dhoni, who remained unbeaten on 68 off 40 balls, was dictating where the bowler was landing the ball. Woakes did finish the over with a perfect yorker from around the wicket. But by then, Dhoni had already taken him for 22 runs.
A cautionary note
Yuvraj Singh had spoken with ‘the good old days’ nostalgia on the eve of the match about how Dhoni would go back to playing as freely as ever. On Tuesday he’d echoed Yuvraj’s sentiments with bat in hand. He’d also sent a cautionary note to the English camp about what they could be in store for and raised hopes for the Dhoni faithful that there’s still some gas left in the tank. He’d also given for the thousands who had filled up the Brabourne Stadium with the sole aim of seeing him bat—or perhaps just in flesh and blood—more than what they’d bargained for.
Dhoni’s arrival at the crease was understandably a vociferous affair as thousands roared in unison. At some point, even Yuvraj joined in the applause. It’d been over 11 years since Yuvraj had been joined at the crease by his long-standing sparring partner in a non-international match in India—the last being when they turned up for India Seniors in the Challenger Trophy final in October 2005. But it’s unlikely that had anything to do with him clapping his bat against his gloves in the middle. Perhaps he was sucked into it by the prevailing emotion around CCI. The atmosphere was such. The noise wasn’t just deafening, it was ear-splitting.