M.S. Dhoni has evolved over the years. He has built a bridge between the words sedate and swashbuckling, which seemed unlikely when his booming shots threatened window panes in Ranchi during his younger days.
He has trimmed his mane while his image has become larger-than-life after leading India to a title triumph in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007.
Strangely for a player who first donned the National cap in December 2004 and is just 28 years-old, the Indian skipper has often been assailed with one query in recent times “Where has the old Dhoni gone?”
Shift in approach
The allusion is obviously to his comparatively sedate stints at the crease in contrast to his slam-bang approach a few years ago.
Dhoni the captain has a strike-rate of 85.17, while as a mere player earlier he clocked 96.26. However, it is a number that masks a bigger truth because ever since he started leading India in One-Day Internationals from September 2007, he has averaged 58.75 and that is much better than the 44.23 he had under the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
The bludgeoning Dhoni has made way for the builder Dhoni as he weighs in the runs in a line-up increasingly dependent on him, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh while Sachin Tendulkar slowly eases into his cricketing twilight.
After scoring a match-winning 124 at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium at Nagpur on Wednesday in the second ODI of the Hero Honda Cup series against Australia, Dhoni reflected on his metamorphosis.
“You play by instinct but at the same time there is a cautious attempt. If a youngster plays a big shot and gets out, people say it is okay and that he will improve. But when a player, who has played around 100 matches, plays a big shot and succeeds then he is termed a brave-heart but if he is not successful, then people just rip him apart. At times, that is on the back of your mind but whenever you look to go for a big shot, you back yourself and go for it,” Dhoni said.
For the time being Dhoni seems to have resolved his inner tussle between solidity and super shots. His batting paradigm relies on a steady start clearing the decks for a rapid-fire finish and his latest ODI hundred at Nagpur is a case in point.
In the initial phase along with Gambhir, he banked on the singles while reaching his 50 off 55 balls with just three fours. Once he got his eye in and found another ally in Suresh Raina, Dhoni needed only 39 deliveries more to reach the three-figure mark with four 4s and two 6s hastening the pace.
In the high-pressure cauldron of Indian cricket it helps that Dhoni does have a touch of humour. When asked about Ben Hilfenhaus bouncer that pinged him on the helmet on Wednesday, the skipper said: “I went blank. It was a good delivery but it is not like I was hit on the head for the first time. If you make a programme on it I think you will get at least 15 clippings.”
As for his evolving batting style, that has yielded 4827 ODI runs from 147 matches, Dhoni has the last word. “I am not what I was three years ago when there was less responsibility and more flair. Now there is more responsibility and I play according to the situation,” Dhoni said. He would rather embrace speed on his super-bikes.