Cricket World Cup: The Dhoni Who Gave Up

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There was something wrong with MS Dhoni today. He was calm while batting. Too calm. Gautam Buddha calm. He knew that nirvana would not be attained today. He knew that enlightenment was out of his reach.

Watching Dhoni chase down targets is one of life’s few great pleasures left to us. We can revel when he unleashes those brutish arms on hapless bowlers. He is the Master of the Chase. James Bond and Jason Bourne envy his ability to focus on the target. He plays with the bowler’s will. He toys with them, takes the match to the last over, the last ball even, and stares them down. He knows that he will win a battle of the minds. Today, at Sydney, facing Australia in the semi-finals of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, he knew he couldn’t.

Usually, when Dhoni bats second, you can feel his brain at work. His eyes are constantly checking the field for new placements. The minds processes where the helicopter shot should be hit. His feet ache to hit the turbo button. Ooh yeah! He wants to win. His ability for mental math on the cricket field is second to none. He’s constantly assessing the target, breaking it down into bits and pieces. Play out three overs, achieve X. Two overs more, achieve Y. Then play the bowler, not the game, smash him out of the park. Win the game.

Today that manic intensity was missing. He wasn’t checking the field to see where fielders were placed. I doubt he looked at the scoreboard to see which bowler had how many overs left. He definitely wasn’t checking which end the bowler was bowling from.  He knew this wasn’t his game to win.

He wasn’t able to middle anything. His partner-in-crime Suresh Raina had got out. Lone Ranger was playing without Tonto. He played and nudged and trudged his way to 50. Mind you, it was still at almost a run-a-ball. There was a glimmer when Ajinkya Rahane hit that four just before the powerplay. Yes, now things would turn. Dhoni would show Australia what’s what. Except that he didn’t. Rahane got out. The light in his eyes dimmed. Jadeja followed Rahane to the pavilion. The light went out.

Then he hit those two sixes. They were a false alarm. Maybe he was checking to see of his arms still had the power. Maybe at a time when he was unable to middle anything or pick the gaps in the field, those shots gave him hope. The real Dhoni existed inside. He couldn’t come out today.

And since he couldn’t come out he ran himself out. Those piston legs could have made the final dash if they really wanted to. They didn’t. The God of the ODI arena realised he was mortal after all.