Former captain MS Dhoni fought hard with a gritty 65-run knock as Sri Lanka pacer Suranga Lakmal ran through India's top order in the 1st ODI at Dharamsala on Sunday. The lanky bowler, during his extended spell of 10 overs, reduced the hosts to 29-7 before Dhoni held one end together to take India's total past 100 at the picturesque ground overlooking the Himalayas. Dhoni put up a crucial 41-run stand with Kuldeep Yadav for the eighth wicket. The duo took India past 54, their own lowest total in ODI cricket. The wicketkeeper-batsman hit 10 fours and two sixes in his 87-ball stay, scoring his 67th ODI fifty before he was finally dismissed by Thisara Perera to wrap up the Indian innings.
Ahead of the limited-overs cricket series, several experts had raised questions about Dhoni's place in the current Indian set up. While the likes of Ajit Agarkar, Aakash Chopra and VVS Laxman suggested he be replaced by younger players in the T20I team, others felt 36-year-old, now well past his prime, should bring down the curtains on his illustrious career.
The constant chatter and scrutiny around the right-hander's future, even compelled captain Virat Kohli and head coach to adopt a combative approach in the media when taking questions on Dhoni.
"First, I don't understand why are people only pointing him out, I'm not able to understand this. If I fail three times, no one is going to point fingers at me because I'm not over 35. The guy is fit, he is passing all the fitness tests, he is contributing to the team in every way possible, tactically on the field, with the bat. If you look at the series against Sri Lanka and Australia, he did really well and in this series he hasn't got much time to bat," Kohli said during a post-match press conference in Thiruvananthapuram.
Shastri described those criticizing Dhoni as 'jealous'.
"Looks like there are a lot of jealous people around, who just want Dhoni to have a couple of bad days.... There are a few people who are waiting to see the end of MS Dhoni. But great players like him decide their own future," Shastri said.
On Sunday, Dhoni showcased all the qualities that make a key member of this Indian side. Laxman said Dhoni showed how to bat calmly under pressure. The former India batsman's assessment was spot considering the team is finding it hard to find a batsman who can play the role of finisher going forward.
Congratulations Sri Lanka on a comprehensive win. Lakmal and co. made most of the conditions. MS Dhoni once again showed how to bat calmly under pressure.— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) December 10, 2017
Dhoni exhibited toughness that is lacking in India's middle order in the run up to the crucial 2019 World Cup.
Dhoni's fans were delighted to watch their hero turn back the clock with his teammates struggling on the seaming wicket.
Let's put it this way. Wherever this game heads to from here doesn't matter. MS Dhoni just stood and delivered to save the blushes and gave something for the team to fight for. #IndvSL— Prabhu ?? ? (@Cricprabhu) December 10, 2017
Stand-in captain Rohit Sharma said he wasn't surprised with Dhoni's effort.
"He knows what to do in these conditions. I was not surprised. Someone batting with him would have made a big difference. There was still something in the pitch when we were bowling, but 112 was not enough runs on the board," he said during the post-match press conference.
Despite several young players knocking on the Team India door, Dhoni continues to stand out with rare qualities that he brings to the table. From his game awareness to playing as per the demands of the situation, there is no denying that Dhoni adds value to this Indian side. It is hard to think of any other player in his place who would review a leg before decision (Jasprit Bumrah's) with such confidence and urgency. Likewise, there is no player in India's talent pool who can control the tempo of a match with the bat like Dhoni does in a crisis situation.
Dhoni's brilliance is also a reminder of the chinks in India's armor. Irrespective of what his detractors feel, Dhoni, for now, is vindicating the words of his captain and coach.