From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.45 :: Nov. 07, 2009
M. S. Dhoni... his heart beats for India.
Well begun is half done, goes the adage. However, in the frenetic world of One-day Internationals, which thrives on a batting pattern of opening blitz, middle-overs consolidation and the breathless gallop to the finish line, willow wielders who have the last laugh are a valued lot.
Finishers are always in demand. Michael Bevan made a name for himself by the manner in which he stitched partnerships, stole singles that would have made a pick-pocket proud, and helped Australia win in innumerable ODIs. Closer home, India has had its share of finishers who have done the job with panache and punch. Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh largely did the job in the 1990s. Later, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif donned the mantle of last-minute saviours as was evident in the NatWest Series triumph in England in 2002.
Cut to the present, Yuvraj and his captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni have chiselled a batting edifice that is high on runs and spells victories for the ‘Men in Blue’. It’s an alliance that continues the good work of the earlier combine of Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj that yielded 2663 runs from 67 innings.
Yuvraj and Dhoni have been at the crease together on 49 occasions, scoring 2235 runs with nine century partnerships that have all come in winning causes, the latest against Ricky Ponting’s men at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi during the third ODI of the Hero Honda Cup series.
It was a partnership that married Yuvraj’s flamboyance with Dhoni’s doggedness. India had scored 53 for three in 15.2 overs while chasing Australia’s 229 and the match was at a crossroads when Yuvraj and Dhoni complemented each other in a match-winning fourth-wicket partnership of 148 runs.
“I have always enjoyed batting with Dhoni. We have a good understanding between the wickets and the special thing about him is that when I am under pressure, I know that he is capable of scoring a boundary to take the pressure away,” Yuvraj said.
Dhoni, meanwhile, praised his partner-in-victories. “Yuvraj is the best batsman we have at the number four slot and when he comes in, he is capable of scoring well in the batting power play as he can hit all over,” Dhoni said.
Yuvraj and Dhoni might make a mockery of targets in their contrasting ways, but they have evolved over the years. Yuvraj burst on the scene as a prodigious talent while Dhoni, long hair and longer sixes, was like a rock star to his fans. Yuvraj then went through his moments of doubt against spin and baulked at questions that probed his attitude. Dhoni, on the other hand, handled the captaincy and began to rein in his aggression.
Yuvraj Singh is the best batsman we have at number four slot and when he comes in, he is capable of scoring well in the batting power play as he can hit all over. -- M.S. Dhoni
“When you play a big shot and get out, you get ripped and that plays on your mind,” admitted Dhoni. And Yuvraj after his 78 in the Delhi ODI, said: “It was said that I cannot play spin, and on slow pitches. It was satisfying to prove that wrong.”
Yuvraj and Dhoni often cause heart-burn to rival captains with their ability to keep the scoreboard ticking while overcoming pressure. An awe-struck Ponting said: “When you have a batsman like Dhoni till the end, you do know that you will go for a few runs. Dhoni and Yuvraj batted well. In ODIs, one partnership can take the game away and we saw it happen when Yuvraj and Dhoni were together.”
Yuvraj, with 7199 ODI runs, and Dhoni, with 4898, are proven players of quality and have nerves of steel to cope with chase-induced stress. “You play according to the situation and the position the team is in. When you go for a big shot, you back yourself and go for it,” Dhoni said.
Situation and context determines the manner in which Yuvraj and Dhoni plan their stints at the crease. “We don’t assign roles to each other when we bat. We just play according to the demands of the game,” Yuvraj said.
“Dhoni has become a bit slow these days but he can still hit,” the southpaw added with a smile that reflected the easy-going camaraderie between the two, which is so critical to survive in situations when all seems lost in the slog overs.
Finishers thrive on partnerships, respect their singles, are alive to scoring opportunities, take calculated risks and have a never-say-die spirit even when the asking rate hovers close to 10 per over. These are attributes you find in abundance in Yuvraj and Dhoni.
In the Australian team, Michael Hussey, under pressure following his recent run of low scores, proved why he is rated so highly as an accumulator as well as a good finisher. He scored three fifties on the trot in the current ODI series against India. Like Yuvraj and Dhoni, Hussey too stays alert with rapid singles before launching into the assault-mode as the innings wears on.
Yuvraj, 27, and Dhoni, 28, do have age on their side but a few questions remain. Yuvraj, Dhoni, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are part of the quartet that drives India’s batting in the ODIs, while Sachin Tendulkar eases into his last summers in the game. However, the Indian batting line-up needs youngsters like Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, to name a few, to also take charge and eventually don the role of finishers.
Dhoni admitted that finishers haven’t yet fully emerged from ‘Generation Next’. “You don’t get finishers in the game. Yuvraj is young but he has played over 200 ODIs and that is how you learn how to finish a game. There are only a few Sachin Tendulkars in the game who go on with it and they are among the best you get in any side. You have to groom individuals who are talented and are open-minded when it comes to learning the art of how to bat in an ODI. More often than not you get a talented player and you have to groom him and he has to learn how to finish a game,” Dhoni said.
Right now, Yuvraj and Dhoni will continue to play their shepherding-the-chase or setting-up-a-huge-total roles with strong hands, fast legs and a calm head. As for the future, hopefully youngsters with fire in their belly and who love to emulate Houdini will emerge.
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