Vantage point

Monday, October 31, 2005

Best ODI Knock Ever!

There is something very brutal yet artistic about Mahendra Singh Dhoni's batting. His batting suggests that he would make a very good boxer. Firstly, he has the formidable built required. He has the brute strength, and the rare ability to direct the strength in the direction he wants, demonstrating Newton's Second Law of Motion with remarkable fidelity. Crucially, he also has the boxer's instinct to fend and defend when the situation demands. It is no coincidence then that the two occasions on which he has got a lot of overs to bat, he has turned in two very big hundreds.

Dhoni vs Sri Lanka today was like a 12-round boxing match. Dhoni kept landing crucial blows, yet respected the ability of the Lankans, and held up his guard when necessary. At the end of the long battle, Dhoni won with a 12th round KO.

Greg Chappel has been rumoured to have compared Dhoni to Gilchrist in terms of ability. Dhoni provided his coach with a stat to use in this argument, as he overhauled Gilchrist's highest ODI score of 172 by 12 runs to post the highest ever score by a wicket-keeper. He nonchalantly obliterated another record along the way, improving the "Most Sixes in an innings by and Indian", jointly held by Tendulkar(once) and Ganguly(twice) at 7 sixes, to ten hits. He also crept up noticed to join Ganguly on the second rung of the "Highest ODI score by an Indian" ladder.

The most remarkable thing about his innings today was the fact that in his 183-run-145-ball essay, he did not give the Lankans even half a chance to dismiss him. Usually innings of this tenor and length, coming even from masters like Tendulkar or Jaysuriya, are punctuated with at least one or two dropped catches or a missed stumping or run out. But the most that Dhoni was willing to offer the Lankans were a couple of miscues, which fell miles away from fielders. Those apart, he played a knock which, just like his previous century against Pakistan, was played respecting the situation the game was in. He stole one's and two's when required, and responded admirably to his partners' calls. He read the bowling very well, and even when he advanced down the track, did so with enough caution to change his shot at the last moment if he had misjudged the length. He studied the bowlers' hand well enough to spot Murali's doosras and Fernando's well-disguised slower ones. And then, when he decided to take to the air, he did so in full measure, backing his natural ability, and clearing the ropes with ease.

This was not just a blistering entertaining knock. It was ODI batting at its best. I will go so far as to say that this was the best one-day knock I have ever seen, easily surpassing the 180-plus scores by Ganguly, Tendulkar, Jaysuriya, Richards and Anwar that I have seen. Before you accuse me of getting carried away, let me remind you, all those were made batting first. All those guys had no specific target to chase, and there was no pressure on them once they crossed hundred. They could just go on a complete rampage.

I am pretty sure (readers are welcome to correct me if I am wrong) that this was the highest individual score made batting second, by a huge margin. Dhoni came in to bat, staring a target of almost 300, after Tendulkar had been dismissed in the very first over. The Lankans had their tails up. But with a crisp six over cover off Vaas, Dhoni launched a counter-attack. It was other senior partners who kept getting out. Sehwag's and Dravid's dismissals, both falling to the doosra, would no-doubt have put pressure on Dhoni to stay there as the "set batsman". In the past few months, India has messed up many seemingly easy chases. He recognised the fact, soaked up the pressure, and batted with maturity, nay mastery. After those wickets, he did not attempt sixes off Murali or Vaas, though he did milk their bowling too. All his sixes came off the lesser bowlers, ample proof of attacking selectively and intelligently.

We should not make the mistake of thinking that this was merely Dhoni's day, when everything he did worked. It was his day no doubt, but a lot of intelligent batting was on display. In domestic LOI cricket too, Dhoni has shepherded many such chases. Those who followed last year's Challenger Trophy will understand what I am saying. I think there may be a case for Dhoni batting up the order regularly. He is a great exponent of the art of ODI batting, and should be given as many overs as possible to display his art. A promotion to one-down whenever India is chasing a 225-plus total can be the start. He should also be groomed to eventually open the innings once Tendulkar retires.

In light of the improvements in his keeping, and the fact that Dinesh Karthick isn't exactly Alan-Knott-reborn, an opportunity in the test side is also possible.