2019 Cricket World Cup semi-final, India v New ZealandContinue reading
2019 Cricket World Cup semi-final, India v New ZealandContinue reading
Imagine a tiger hunting a deer. He’s squatting down in the undergrowth, taut and primed to strike. The deer is ambling around just in front of him, oblivious. When the deer gets close enough, the tiger will leap out and bite him in the neck.
The deer mills around. He mills around for ages. Sometimes he gets closer. Sometimes he moves further away. Sometimes he gets really, really close. But still our tiger does not move. Our tiger knows best. Timing is everything.
Eventually, the deer is so far away as to be almost out of sight. Then he does move out of sight. Then night falls. Then the sun rises. Then night falls again. It is at this point that the tiger briefly leaps out before deciding to head home.
This was MS Dhoni’s innings of 37 off 59 balls in the second one-day international between England and India when India needed about 12 an over.
Dhoni famously likes to ‘take it deep’ when he bats, preying on bowlers’ nervousness when the game gets close. On this occasion he went to Mariana Trench depths in some sort of specially-designed bathscaphe, but at no point did anyone feel the faintest hint of nervousness because depth without closeness does not a nervous fielding side make. Quite the opposite in fact.
The match had to a great extent been lost before MS Dhoni appeared, but we cannot help but applaud him for playing with such extraordinary passivity and complete lack-of-intent. This was one of our all-time favourite one-day innings. It was unforgettable.
India failed to chase down 190 against the West Indies and there were a couple of prominent reasons for this.
Firstly, MS Dhoni hit India’s slowest half-century in 16 years – although ‘hit’ seems an entirely inappropriate word to use for an innings of 54 off 114 balls. MS Dhoni bobbled India’s slowest half-century in 16 years. He was there until six balls to go too, so his soporific knock actually took in much of ‘the slog’ .
Another reason for India’s low score was Jason Holder.
— CricketWestIndies (@westindies) July 2, 2017
When we first caught sight of Holder, we thought ‘ooh hell’ or something along those lines. Two metres tall, a seam bowler who could bat, we had visions of Curtly Ambrose as an all-rounder. After watching him play, he came across as more of an Angus Fraser/Chris Tavaré character.
While that would be many people’s dream cricketer, it was nevertheless an interesting contrast to one’s expectations. He was clearly a committed cricketer, but a labouring one to whom results didn’t appear to come easily.
For a long time the effort-plus-raw-ingredients-equals-results equation didn’t really add up for Holder, but the final part has been increasing in value for a while now. He took 5-27 against India and if he’s still coming on second or third change in Tests, here he was opening the bowling.
There’s more to come. Albeit probably in the form of a self-destructive diktat from the West Indies Cricket Board.
Ah, bless. He’d made a few in club cricket, but this was MS Dhoni’s first fifty in T20 internationals. Hopefully this is a first step towards a successful career on the big stage.
Speaking after the game, Dhoni may or may not have said: “This was my first fifty in T20 internationals. Hopefully this is a first step towards a successful career on the big stage.”
Not to be outdone, England claimed some sort of record or other by losing eight wickets for eight runs.
Six of them were taken by Yuzvendra Chahal as he returned the third-best figures in T20 internationals.
Chahal almost certainly didn’t observe: “Hopefully I can be the next Ajantha Mendis.”
Following India’s one-day series defeat to Bangladesh, MS Dhoni has hit back at his critics, saying that he’s the captain and nothing beyond that.
When it was put to him that the result might be considered something of a disappointment to India fans, Dhoni may or may not have replied: “It’s my team.”
The implication seems to be that the captain is in control and if he wants to lose to Bangladesh, he can lose to Bangladesh and no-one else is permitted an opinion on the matter.
“I don’t slag you lot off when you use the word ‘would’ when you mean ‘will’,” he continued. “So don’t get all up in my grill when my team loses a game of cricket. Each person should stick to his own field. My field is the winning and losing of games of cricket and I will continue to do both of those things to the best of my ability until the selectors decide that someone else can do them better than I can.”
When reporters looked at him quizzically, he added: “I ain’t even lying.”
That’s what we’ve written about for the Mumbai Mirror. It’s not just about Dhoni though. It’s also about conviction in general and how an epidemic of uncertainty can sweep through a side at a major tournament.
In other words, it’s yet another piece about stuff England did wrong masquerading as something broader and more inclusive.
The normal reaction when one of cricket’s biggest stars retires from Tests is a kind of pained collective whine, mourning their departure. Never again will we get to see them do all those things that we’ve only just realised we took for granted. But MS Dhoni is different. Everyone – even his fans – is just sort of saying: ‘Yeah, that makes sense’.
People can be a bit black and white about these sorts of things saying that Dhoni never liked the longest format. That’s rubbish. He played 90 Tests and you don’t do that unless you give at least half a toss. It probably is true that Test cricket is his least favourite format however – and as is the case for all top cricketers, something eventually has to give.
Once upon a time, you could afford to give your all in even your least favourite format, but with today’s fixture lists, enthusiasm has to be rationed; carefully apportioned where it will have the most impact. Does anyone want to see MS cruising through big matches? It’s not hugely satsifactory, but the truth is it’s probably better to replace him with a lesser, but more ravenous player.
It shouldn’t come to that really. Ideally there would be little enough cricket that the top players would be completely full-on in every match in every format. But at present that’s simply unrealistic. Everyday cricket every day is what we’ve found ourselves with.
Some countries have more of their best players retiring early from Tests to prolong their short format careers; other countries will see their best players retiring early from one-dayers to prolong their Test careers. All else being equal, this difference is enough to determine who wins at what. International cricket as one country’s true best eleven versus the best eleven players the opposition can possibly muster is a rare thing indeed. Perhaps we never truly see it any more.
If you get the daily email from this site, you’ll already know whether India have made a decent fist of day five of the first Test against Australia. We’re writing this at the end of day four and have conflicting feelings about how things might pan out.
On the one hand, India’s tours to Australia and England over the last few years seem to have been characterised by the wheels falling off. It doesn’t always happen straight away – their win at Lord’s this summer was excellent – but wheellessness does tend to feel like an inevitability. Once off, the wheels roll away and maim children while MS Dhoni placidly looks on.
See something often enough and you become conditioned to expect it. India’s first innings 444 was a decent riposte to Australia’s 517-7 declared, but they now face 98 overs on the fifth day and it feels like they’ll be bowled out for 71 with the rest of the tour a painful purgatory where they’ll get to relive the misery again and again. That’s what normally happens.
On the other hand, India have looked an improving side for some time now and this XI in particular seems detached from its implosive predecessors. In England, the almost comically ineffectual Gautam Gambhir provided a link to previous touring sides but he’s gone now, as is Dhoni.
Dhoni has many qualities, some of which are even apparent in the Test format, but he has also gained an almost tangible air of blank-faced acquiescence on these tours. When the AI finds itself sinking towards an unwinnable position in a computer game, it doesn’t throw a strop and hit the reset button; it just plays on, emotionlessly, acceptant of its fate. That’s what Dhoni has become: an automaton with no white flag.
If this is unfair on a player who showed real grit with the bat in England, then perhaps we have to acknowledge that life is complex and no player is a wholly positive or negative influence. Perhaps we can even draw some conclusions based on India’s fourth innings performance. Is Dhoni himself the problem, or was he merely presiding over an Indian side that is the problem?