India beat Australia earlier today by 4 wickets with 2 balls to spare at Adelaide in the 4th ODI of the CB Triangular Series. While Gautam Gambhir was India's top contributor with a measured 92, it was Dhoni's knock of 44* (58) that was the talking point of the day.
India won the match due to a massive 112 meter six by Dhoni followed by a no-ball by Clint McKay due to a above-waist height full toss. Once it was over, a lot of people called it all well and good... but was it just as well and good when the chase was on? My Twitter timeline at the time of the chase said that most of the viewers were having trouble understanding why Dhoni was leaving it so late. And I was with them... indeed, why so late?
The biggest question raised after Dhoni hit that monstrous six was that if one can hit such shots, why not try it earlier to ease a bit of pressure, rather than risking it all at the end. And these kind of queries were not just raised in the minds of casual viewers, but also the men in the dressing room. The Man of the Match Gautam Gambhir had this to say: "We should have finished this game in the 48th over. We shouldn't have taken this game to the 50th over, that's my personal observation."
What is the best way to plan and pace a chase? When do you attack and when do you rely on quick running? Obviously, the answers differ in different conditions, but I think certain things remain common everywhere. In my opinion, if the best finisher of the team (MS Dhoni) is coming in to bat with 92 needed of 95 balls and batsmen like Suresh Raina (batting), Jadeja and Ashwin (to follow), and the team ends up needing 13 in the final over with two of these above batsmen still batting, then the chase has been miscalculated somewhere.
And in this innings of MS Dhoni, it is quite apparent where the miscalculation occurred. His innings break up is like this - 8 runs of first 24 balls, 25 of next 31 balls, and 11 runs of the last 3 balls. He came in when 92 were needed of 95 balls, and ended up playing 30 dot balls, i.e. 52% of the total deliveries he faced. To put it in perspective, Gambhir faced 52 dot balls in his 111-ball innings, i.e. 47% of the total deliveries faced by him, despite batting through the middle overs as well!
One might well argue that since Dhoni was not doing much to get the required run rate down, Raina and Jadeja had to go for the big hits, and lose their wickets in the process. Gambhir was right when he said that it's difficult in the middle, and different people plan their chases differently, but surely, when you end up with 7 runs of 19 balls in the Batting Powerplay and play a dot ball in almost every over where you also take a 2, you are not doing a lot of good, are you?
Dhoni is usually a fabulous planner and executor of chases - stiff ones, tricky ones, easy ones and straightforward ones. He, along with Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, have made India a very competent chasing unit in limited overs cricket, and also made the World Cup runners-up captain Kumar Sangakkara remark that a team needs about 350 runs on the board to feel safe against this Indian team. But every now and again, there arises a question mark of Dhoni's strategies in such situations.
Like it arose today, it had also arisen during the first Twenty20 between India and Australia earlier on this tour. One of the earlier occasions that I can remember when a similar question had arisen in my mind was not a chase, but India setting a target for New Zealand on the tour of 2009 in the 2nd Twenty20 International, where he wasted the middle overs with 8* (18) before ending up with 28* (30). In that match too, it might be argued that Dhoni's slow approach forced Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja to play shots that shouldn't have ideally been required in those situations.
The man I have written this post about - MS Dhoni - had brilliantly executed the 161 required runs of 170 balls in the World Cup finals. The run rate required then at Wankhede Stadium was 5.68 runs per over, and here at Adelaide Oval was 5.81 runs per over. If he can do it so well there, why couldn't he do it as well here? Had this been a one-off case, I wouldn't have bothered writing this long a post, presuming it to be a mistake. But it is not a one-off case, and thus this has to be considered a strategy of some sort - and in my opinion, a miscalculated strategy!
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