Over the last month or so, when experts were calling for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s head and advocating a change in captaincy, he produced two brilliant innings. Coming at a time when nothing had been going right for Indian cricket, the knock gave fans something to smile about.
Pushed to the wall in the Nagpur Test against England, Dhoni scored a selfless 99 runs, forging a match-saving stand with Virat Kohli. He could have waited and boosted his century column, but personal landmarks never mattered to him. His effort saved India the embarrassment of losing the Test series 1-3.
Last Sunday in Chennai, when India were down at 29 for five — there were talks that the match would be over before the lunch break — Dhoni produced one of the best ODI knocks of all times.
Curbing his natural attacking instincts, he came up with an unbeaten 113 to guide India to a respectable total. In the end, the innings went in vain as a not-so-fluent Nasir Jamshed guided Pakistan to a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Captains show their true character when the team desperately needs them to lead from the front. When the Indian innings was in tatters in Chennai, Dhoni got an ideal platform to not only lead by example but also prove his detractors that nothing was wrong with his batting and reflexes.
In the past, Dhoni may have flashed his blade and scored at a brisk pace, sending fans on a frenzy and making everyone watch in awe. He might not be attractive to watch, may not be in the mould of a VVS Laxman or a Brian Lara when it comes to grace, but is as effective as any of them.
When it matters, he has delivered. He was just unfortunate in the sense that it was only the second instance when he scored an ODI hundred and India ended up on the losing side.
Dhoni is only 31 but seems to have aged beyond his years. The huge responsibility and pressures of leading the nation tell on a man. His greying sideburns somehow suggest how the expectations of a million Indians have taken a toll on him. Yet, captain cool is not complaining.
With age, his wicketkeeping skills may not be the same as that of an energetic 21-year-old. But he has not slowed down at all. Remember the way he stood up to the stumps to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, so that the Pakistan batsmen do not venture out of the crease to kill the swing.
His commitment cannot be doubted. Just when you thought he deserved a break, he is out there keeping for India in some of the meaningless T20s and leading from the front after a gruelling season.
On Thursday, India will need Dhoni to do what no other home captain has done — win an ODI against Pakistan at the historic Eden Gardens. In order to break the jinx, Dhoni will need everything to fall in place, including the toss!