MS Dhoni and his race to the finish

ms1

As Jaspreet Bumrah walked away after the 19th over, Virat Kohli ran up to Hardik Pandya. Kohli left after a couple of pats on his back. Suresh Raina arrived. After a brief neck massage, Ashish Nehra was in his ears. By the time Pandya reached MS Dhoni, everyone had a twitchy bum. They knew what was coming. A famous Dhoni punt.

***

Harbhajan Singh went for 36 in his three. RP Singh was done with his overs. India’s best bowler Irfan Pathan had capped off a brilliant spell. The options left — Yusuf Pathan and Joginder Sharma. India’s new captain didn’t seem flustered as he tossed the ball to the man from Haryana. While entire India screamed -“WTF” in anguish, India’s long-haired captain shouted – “Upaar daalna” and walked back to take his position behind the wicket.

***

Dhoni walks back after a long chat. He didn’t want this. It came to this. He would have preferred Bumrah or Ashwin or Jadeja or Nehra or anyone but a spunky 22-year -14 games-old medium pacer. Bangaldesh had played it perfectly. They pressed India. They have forced Dhoni’s hand. He had to bring Ashwin early. Soumya Sarkar’s assault has messed with his plan. As Pandya ran in, the nerves jangled. Wide and full — Mahmudullah steers it past point looking for a two. Rohit Sharma sprints like a gazelle and keeps it to one. Nehra sprints up with his advice. Dhoni prowls behind the stumps. His discomfort visible, surprisingly.

***

It’s never comfortable when you have Ishant Sharma on the other end while you’re chasing 15-runs in the last over. MS Dhoni had been farming the strike — pushing singles, denying singles. He wanted to take the game deep. He had. Now, he had to deliver. Shaminda Eranga ran up. Full and wide outside off-stump. Dhoni swung. Dhoni missed. Dhoni tightened his velcro.

***

The pressure showed on Pandya. Wide half-volley outside off-stump. Mushfiqur Rahim goes deep into his crease and away she went through covers. Pandya needed help. Hardik needed Mahi bhai. Time for a mid-pitch conference.

***

Six off three — Vinay Kumar on strike. Lasith Malinga steamed in. Dhoni at the non-strikers end looked calm. He hadn’t been timing it. He had missed the first two. Kumar got one. Dhoni got one. Kumar ran himself out. Dhoni on strike. Umesh Yadav had walked in. Four needed to win. Dhoni had to muscle it out, somehow. Malinga fired it in, wide. Dhoni stretched out on one leg, reached it and scooped it over extra-cover.

***

CRICKET-WT20-2016-IND-BAN

Dhoni doesn’t like talking. With Pandya, he has to. He wants him to listen to the plan. Memorise it. Execute it. Pandya – sporting a dazed look – runs in and delivers. Back of length. Mushfiqur swivels, gets a bottom edge. Dhoni dives, in vain. As the balls rolls over the boundary, Dhoni lies flat on the ground. Mushfiqur lets out a roar, punches the air and celebrates. Bangladesh isn’t losing this. Bangladesh can’t lose this. Surely, not from here.

***

13-runs needed off the last over. Xavier Doherty had bowled a gem of an over — got wickets, kept runs in check and bowled dots to Dhoni. Clint McKay read Ashwin’s movements. Dot. McKay followed Ashwin again. Single. Dhoni on strike. McKay made the mistake. Length.

***

Nehra’s talking. He talks some more. A little bit more. Mushfiqur loses his cool. Slaps the ball high up in the air. The Bangla tigers let off a desperate cry. Wasn’t needed Mushy. Shikhar Dhawan settles under the ball. Mahmudullah has crossed. India still can’t win this. India shouldn’t win this.

***
Dot, six, wide, wide. What is wrong with Dhoni? – the crowd yelled – Why Ishant? England was romping home with Eoin Morgan guiding the ship. Then, the English fleet hit the iceberg. Morgan, Bopara, gone. Both caught by Ashwin. Hang on. When did MS move him from mid on to square leg?

***

Two runs off two balls — surely Mahmudullah has got this. Pandya has to get it right. Full toss. Knee-height. Mahmudullah goes for glory. Six? Four? Will it land safe? Ravindra Jadeja runs, turns and pouches it. Super catch under pressure. Heck, brilliant. Hang on. When did MS swap Dhawan with him?

What happened next will be played on a loop in every TV channel, for years to come. In international cricket, you don’t win games. You win moments. MS Dhoni is a master of moments. He senses it before most. He sees it coming and when he does, he pounces on it. Just like he threw away his keeping gloves before the last ball. Just like he asked Pandya ‘not’ to bowl a yorker. Just like he beat a young fast bowler in a 30-yard sprint.

Call him lucky. Call him smart. Call him whatever you want but in a race to finish he seldom comes second and the legend of Dhoni grows richer with every passing game. He is the ultimate finisher — with bat, with the keeping gloves and with his supercomputer brain. Forget the fat lady, it’s not over until MS Dhoni decides to finish it.

Virat Kohli vs Sachin Tendulkar — the greatness debate

collage1

India loves Virat Kohli. India loves Sachin Tendulkar. And India loves to agrue. So, it’s time we declare the house open for the engrossing – “Is Kohli better than Tendulkar?” – debate.

I never understood how two players playing different roles can be compared. I never found a common yardstick because the variables – conditions, bowling attacks, situations, team compositions, injuries – seem too widespread. I, in my minuscule capacity, have never found enough correlation.

Reading the recent Kohli versus Tendulkar debates made me realise that Indians will never let Tendulkar off-the-hook. Even after his retirement, he has to be a part of every cricket conversation. Let’s make it clear at this point that I am not a butt-hurt Tendulkar loyalist. I surely am a big fan and before keying this in, I scanned through various comparison articles.

Here’s what I found – Why Brian Lara is better than Tendulkar? Why Ricky Ponting is better than Tendulkar? Why Rahul Dravid is better than Tendulkar? Why Jacques Kallis is better than Tendulkar? Basically, everyone is better than Tendulkar. But he’s the one who ended up with 100 international tons. And for the latest – why Kohli is greater than Tendulkar  – even ESPNCricinfo couldn’t stay away –

“Tendulkar, at least to this observer, never gave off that particular vibe. He gave off many others, and is responsible for many of the best cricket-watching experiences of my life. But he never, to my eyes, gave off that almost chilling aura of stone-cold certainty. That, I think, is the crucial difference. Tendulkar gave you hope. As long as he was there, the match wasn’t done. But Kohli gives you certainty. When he comes in, the match is done.”

The author states Tendulkar lacked an aura of certainty. Clearly, he fails to fathom the hold Tendulkar had on Indian psyche. Tendulkar gave you hope and that’s why a man unaware of the score always asked, “Sachin hai na?”  It didn’t matter to him if India were five down, he had hope because Sachin Tendulkar was still battingKohli gives us certainty but we don’t lose hope even if he fails because we know Dhoni hai na.

c0b91d360d0e1d5a23c2ab0be5acd7fb

“There are others with that Kohli-esque aura; Michael Bevan and MS Dhoni spring immediately to mind. But Bevan and Dhoni played the role of finisher, where it’s much easier to be Mr Wolf. Not because the task is easy, but because the opportunity is frequent. That’s why I want to compare Tendulkar with Kohli; why I think Kohli is remarkable. It’s a lot harder for someone in the top three to make you think: he’s going to fix this.”

There’s no run chase that Kohli can’t fix. His job is to anchor a chase. Sachin Tendulkar, on the other hand, wasn’t Mr. Wolf for India. He went after the bowling early to get ahead of the chase. He was the first runner in the relay who sets the pace of the performance. Kohli has the licence to push for singles for a late flourish but Tendulkar had to take on the McGraths and the Akhtars to throw caution to the wind.

As must happen with all adolescent phases, Tendulkar gradually grew out of the punk. He got a steady job, ascended the company ladder at a dizzying rate, settled into a comfortable middle age. Not for him any longer the mad incandescence of youth. He was no worse, on some scales even better, but he was different. He became a kind of cricket supercomputer, processing match situations, conditions, his own form, and doing what he thought all those factors together demanded. He became, in a word, a reactive cricketer.

Here, the naivety  shows through. It’s humanly impossible to play for 24-years in the same mode. A batsman’s biggest asset is adaptation and acceptance of the changing peripherals. Tendulkar, in his prime, was supremely attacking. He  changed his game-play to suit the demands of a dodgy elbow, an unreliable back and an unforgiving left toe. Kohli, touch wood, haven’t suffered a major injury setback, yet.

20016

Of course with age, Tendulkar’s powers waned and he handed the ‘mauler’ role to Virender Sehwag and moulded himself into a consolidator. Moreover, he was a part of a side that challenged. Dada’s army for all its swag hardly won anything. Kohli, on the other hand, plays for a team that wins. India, under Dhoni, is an unstoppable force in any LOI competition. They set the mark. They rule the roost. No wonder, their star player is the biggest bully in the yard.

I can go on but it defies logic. Kohli isn’t comparable to Tendulkar because from their mindset to game-play, everything is different. But in India, we love a comparison, especially if it belittles success. It’s in our psyche because all of us have fought off a Sharmaji’s son and have grown to hate the guy who comes first in class. For us, he is the teacher’s pet. He mugs up without understanding and he’s the guy who our crush chooses to go to prom with. To demean him, the new kid on-the-block is the favourite bet.

Virat Kohli is already a LOI legend. He’s getting there in Tests but even when he does, he will not be a Sachin Tendulkar. He will win us games but he won’t bat for our insecurities. He will win us World Cups but he won’t fight the bullies for us. He might crush every  record in the world but he won’t be the guy who will inspire a generation to shake off mediocrity and aim for excellence. Virat Kohli will be our Ricky Ponting. Being Tendulkar, is a different ball game all together.