eat on him, MS Dhoni sweats it out at nets – It looked like a routine optional training session on a travel day by the Indian cricket team, with only six players of the 16-man squad sweating it out in the Cricket Club of India (CCI) nets here less than 18 hours after the completion of the third ODI in Pune.
Four of those six hadn’t played in the Pune ODI – Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey and KL Rahul – while Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu preferred practice over rest ahead of the fourth ODI against the West Indies at the Brabourne Stadium on Monday.
It was a quiet, low-key nets session until, after about half an hour, the entire group of shutterbugs turned their lenses in the opposite direction of the nets.
There was a seventh player who had dropped by for the optional training session: MS Dhoni.
A few fans who had turned up to witness the otherwise mundane practice suddenly came to life the moment Dhoni walked towards the nets with two bats gripped firmly to his hands.
After joking around with Pandey in the seating area adjacent to the couple of nets, Dhoni took guard to face some throwdowns.
The first two balls comprised solid back foot defences, the next two a couple of pulls off his chest region.
A mistimed aerial pull shot that would’ve been caught by an imaginary deep square leg fielder followed soon. At that point, Dhoni paused, placed his bat against his leg and rotated both his shoulders one after another for a few seconds.
It was only after around 15 minutes that Dhoni started getting into his groove, a neatly-timed drive that sailed over long off breaking the shackles of mistimed shots.
The defensive pushes were getting firmer, the flicks off his hips sweeter, the pulls much stronger and the imaginary fielders on the leg side less relevant.
Dhoni batted extensively for about 45 minutes without a break, but he wasn’t done yet.
After calling it a day at the nets, Dhoni walked up to the centre pitch of the stadium. He stationed himself there for a bit, staring down at the turf that will play host on Monday.
India batting coach Sanjay Bangar interrupted Dhoni’s lone time, and the duo had a mid-pitch conversation for a good 10 minutes before the latter returned to the dressing room to chants from fans again.
The former Captain Cool has been facing never-felt-before heat in recent times, perhaps why his presence at the optional training session despite playing just a day before assumes greater significance.
Dropped from the T20I side for India’s next two series, runs have come at a premium for Dhoni lately, a problem that gets multiplied with the team’s seemingly never-ending middle-order woes in ODI cricket.
Famous for answering even the trickiest of questions from critics with a straight face, questions have now started to arise about Dhoni’s longevity, and if the team can still afford to have him in their World Cup team next year, even though his wicketkeeping skills remain exemplary.
A casual glance at the statistics will tell you that in the nine ODIs that India have played since the start of the Asia Cup, Dhoni’s highest score is only 36.
However, a deeper look will also tell you that Dhoni has faced more than 30 deliveries in only two out of the nine innings, and has not batted in three of them.
The blazing form of India’s top three over the last two ODI series has meant that Dhoni in particular, and the middle-order in general, has spent more time relaxing in the dressing room than performing their duties in the middle.
And, on the few occasions in which the middle-order led by Dhoni has been put under the pump, it has failed to deliver.
Perhaps, what Dhoni needs in order to prove himself is more of the latter situations, where he walks in at 80/3 after 15 overs, with the need of the hour being stability and the luxury being the number of balls left to face.
Nothing substitutes game time when the runs have dried up, and all it needs is one decent knock with a considerable amount of time in the middle for things to start turning around.
Dhoni showed glimpses of that at the nets on Sunday. How he would love to replicate it in the match come Monday.
1 No. of ODIs India have won out of the 8 they have played at the Brabourne Stadium, their only win coming against New Zealand in 1995
DID YOU KNOW?
Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium last hosted a One-day International in 2006, when Australia beat West Indies in the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy final