After guiding India to an improbable victory over Sri Lanka in the tri-series final on Thursday, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has again staked claim to the title of the best-ever finisher in the history of ODI cricket.
Dhoni has time and again given ample proof of being a class finisher, and on Thursday once again, ‘Captain Cool’ held his nerve to steer India to yet another title triumph.
Needing 15 runs to win off the last over and with just one wicket in hand, a calm Dhoni, returning to the team after recuperating from a hamstring injury, smashed Sri Lankan pacer Shaminda Eranga for two sixes and a boundary in just four balls to finish off the game in style at the Queen's Park Oval.
His team’s faith in his abilities was exemplified by Rohit Sharma, who anchored the innings with a responsible 58 at the top of the order, Speaking at the post-match press conference, the opener said, “Dhoni has done it over and over for us, so we were all positive in the dressing room. We've seen him doing it for many years now. This wasn't any surprise.”
It truly was no surprise and the manner in which he won the match had a sense of déjà vu for many fans. This was a world record eighth time that he has won a game with a six.
Former captain and chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar also believes that he has not witnessed a better finisher than the Jharkhand dasher.
"It was a great fight-back from the young Indian brigade after losing initial games. Dhoni has a great temperament and, by far, he's the best finisher I have ever seen. He just doesn't get flustered at any stage of the game," Vengsarkar told PTI.
Dhoni has got his 19th Man of the Match award in ODIs, including Thursday’s, which was his sixth against Sri Lanka.
Dhoni on Thursday also equaled South African Jonty Rhodes’ world record of the most not-outs in successful run chases — finishing unbeaten 33 times.
Also amongst batsmen with 1000 runs or more in successful chases, Dhoni is the only one to have averaged 100-plus in ODIs.
In 72 successful chases by India, Dhoni has batted in 54 innings and scored 2102 runs with a highest score of 183 not out — at an average of 100.09. His strike-rate of 89.63 in those efforts is also quite impressive.
A look at some of Dhoni’s heroics in chases explains the reason behind his success. It’s his ability to remain calm in the face of severe adversity, and knack at changing gears at will.
Back in 2005, Dhoni, a new entrant in the Indian team, had scored an astounding 148 off 123 balls against Pakistan at Vishakapatnam to set up a famous victory by guiding India to an amazing 356 for 9 wickets. Pakistan had failed to chase down the huge target.
Just a few months later, Dhoni smashed an unbeaten 183 in just 145 balls batting at no. 3, his highest ODI score to date, with an incredible tally of 10 sixes and 15 fours. It was the Lankans who had to bear the brunt of his blade that time too.
Thanks to that fabulous innings, India chased down a stiff target of 299 set up by Lanka with almost four overs to spare.
Dhoni also did the finisher's job in sublime fashion in Pakistan - at Lahore and Karachi - in 2006 with unbeaten 70-plus knocks that became key elements in India's 4-1 victory in the ODI series after the 0-1 loss in the preceding Test series.
He has done it in Bangladesh in May, 2007 and then in January, 2010 with innings of 91 not out and 101 not out respectively.
In some of these knocks he has had the support of the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli and in others, like he did yesterday in the company of last man Ishant Sharma, tail-enders.
The most talked about and important among these back-to-the-wall knocks is the 91 not out he made in the April 2, 2011 World Cup final against sub continent rivals Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium final here.
Thanks to the brilliant 97 by opener Gautam Gambhir, his innings building partnership of 119 with Dhoni and the captain’s invaluable 54-run unfinished stand with Yuvraj Singh, India chased down the imposing and nerve-wracking target of 275 set up by Lanka with ten balls to spare.
Dhoni finished off the game as only he could, by clobbering speedster Nuwan Kulasekara for the winning six to send the entire country into a celebratory mood for days.
Discussing his habit of coming good when the chips are down and excellent finishing skills, Dhoni feels they have a lot to do with the good cricketing sense he is 'blessed' with.
Or may be it has to do with the heavy bat he used in the final over as it was "perfect for slogging".
Whatever the secret may be. India will be hoping for more such innings from it’s captain.