Myths about Dhoni shown to be just that

As the Indian cricket team was slowly moving towards defeat against Australia in the World Cup semi-final, many commentators, the normally erudite Allan Border among them, were still convinced that Indian captain M.S. Dhoni would explode at some point and carry India to victory.

It looks like Border and all the others of his ilk were dreaming earlier in the summer when Dhoni called time on his Test career, indicating that he was unable to handle that job any more. He did not step down from the captaincy, he quit Tests altogether.

Quite simply, Dhoni has lost it. He is past it and his sticking on for the World Cup was a typical reaction from a cricketer in a country where the selectors do not pick people on form alone. The same applies to Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi. All are past it, yet were allowed to play on by their respective countries’ selectors, for so-called sentimental reasons.

Dhoni may have been the best finisher in one-day cricket for a long time. But that ability has gone. He cannot do it any more. The myth persists and that’s all it is — a myth.

Dhoni’s hanging on is not unusual in India; Kapil Dev, the captain under whom India won its first World Cup title, hung on and on, just so he could break Ian Botham’s record for most Test wickets. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid all continued playing beyond the point when it was painfully obvious that they were no longer being picked on form. A lot of other good prospects were dudded of their chance of playing for the national team as a result.

In Australia, at times, that kind of sentimentality does not come into play. Ian Healy was denied a last Test in Brisbane in 1999, after he had shown that his talents were on the wane by dropping Brian Lara during a tense run chase in the third Test in the Caribbean. Adam Gilchrist made his debut when Pakistan arrived for the first Test of the Australian summer. But at times, Australia also looks the other way, a classic case being that of Matthew Hayden.

So the fact that Dhoni could not do anything except run himself out later on in the Indian innings did not come as a surprise. He gave an indication that he is no longer capable of captaining the team by letting things drift during the Australian innings: after David Warner had been dismissed early, Dhoni just sat back and let Steve Smith and Aaron Finch settle in. By the time he realised that the two spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, were being picked off for singles without showing any indication that they would take a wicket, it was too late. Finch, not in the greatest form, and Smith added 180-odd and ensured that Australia would cross 300.

Taking wickets later in the innings did ensure that Australia did not go on to 350-plus but the 328 that they got was at least 40 too much for any team to chase at the SCG. History teaches us many things, and one look at the totals chased successfully at the SCG in one-day matches would have told Dhoni that.

Whether the word foolish is politically correct or not, it is the one which fits the dismissals of both Indian openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. At a time when India was cruising and scoring at six an over, Dhawan hit the ball straight to a fielder — just after he taken 16 runs off a James Faulkner over. Rohit did something equally stupid, attempting an aggressive stroke off Mitchell Johnson just after he had clobbered that bowler into the stands.

And all the commentators did not consider one thing — only Dhawan and Rohit had scored consistently for India in the tournament. Every one of the other batsman had got just one decent score. It was not surprising that every one of them failed.

In the end, India failed when it had to step up. That is not surprising, it has happened on innumerable occasions in the past. And it will happen again unless selection policies change.

When will India’s luck run out?

India has continued its incredible run in the World Cup cricket tournament, bowling another team out as it recorded a 109-run win over Bangladesh to enter the semi-finals.

But this could not have been achieved had one umpiring error not gone India’s way.

At three for 196, India looked like it would go on to make a big total at the MCG, having chosen to bat after winning the toss.

But then Rohit Sharma, on 90, hit the fourth ball of the 40th over, bowled by Rubel Hossain, straight down the throat of deep midwicket fielder Imrul Kayes. Had this dismissal stood, then Bangladesh would have had a chance of reining India in as Rohit had carried the innings until that point, combining with Suresh Raina to take India forward from a shaky 3 for 115.

But the square-leg umpire Aleem Dar, who had earlier been bitten by a wasp, signalled a no-ball. In Dar’s opinion, the ball was above waist-level. This was clearly not correct as Rohit connected with the ball below waist-level after he had advanced a couple of steps from the crease.

And the trajectory of the ball was downwards, so it was nowhere near waist-level.

Taking his cue from Dar, the umpire at the bowler’s end, Ian Gould, signalled the no-ball and Rohit came back to his crease and continued his innings. There was no effort to check with the video umpire whether the call was correct.

Rohit made another 47 runs at a spanking pace. By the time Raina fell, the pair had taken the score to 237. At 273, Rohit was finally out, bowled by young Taskin Ahmed.

India finally made 6 for 302. No team has ever chased 300 and won at the MCG.

With that statistic hovering over their heads, Bangladesh began their chase. They started ambitiously with Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes putting on 33. Tamim, it must be remembered, was the man who shone with the bat when Bangladesh defeated India in the 2007 World Cup.

But there was to be no repeat. Tamim fell to a catch behind off Umesh Yadav and the very next ball Kayes was smartly run out as Ravindra Jadeja fielded brilliantly; Yadav collected the return very efficiently and removed the bails at the bowler’s end.

No Bangladesh batsman made a good score, the highest being 35 by bowler Nasir Hossain. At least five others got starts, but none went beyond 30. The man who had made two hundreds in the Cup, Mohammad Mahmudullah, fell to a great catch on the boundary by Shikhar Dhawan who juggled the ball thrice before throwing it back into the field to make the catch legal.

The game ended on the last ball of the 45th over.

India has bowled out every team it has played in this tournament so far. It is doubtful that this fairytale run will continue if, as expected, it meets Australia for a place in the final.

Sri Lanka’s big three may have stayed on too long

It has been said of the great West Indies cricketer Viv Richards that he should have quit the international game two years before he actually did. Richards, who made his debut in India in 1974, retired in 1991, after having been West Indies captain for about six years.

But after 1989, he was never the dominating batsman he had been over his entire career; his reflexes appeared to have slowed, and his temper sometimes got the better of him.

Something similar could be said about the three Sri Lankans — Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Kumar Sangakkara — who played their last game together on Wednesday, a loss to South Africa in a World Cup quarter-final. For Sangakkara it will be his last one-day game; Jayawardene has already quit Test and T20 cricket so this is his last international game.

Sangakkara is still part of the Test team, as is Dilshan. The latter has expressed a desire to keep playing for a few more years and it remains to be seen whether the crushing defeat by South Africa — by nine wickets, as the Proteas broke their duck in World Cup knockout matches — leads to a change of mind.

Not one could summon up a last-ditch match-winning innings, and in a way it was sad to see the trio collectively scores only 49 runs of which Sangakkara made a painful 45 off 96 balls, an innings totally out of character. Dilshan failed to get off the mark.

It is telling that the three went through the group games without much of a hiccup, with Sangakkara even setting a record by scoring four consecutive centuries. But then, the pressure in those games is a fraction of what it is in the knockout stages.

Both Sangakkara and Jayawardene have produced plenty of match-winning efforts for Sri Lanka over the years, and they even came good last year, taking Sri Lanka to triumph in the World T20. This year was a bridge too far.

When it comes to cricket, Sri Lanka is an unusual country. It has been playing international cricket for just 34 years, yet it has produced a relatively large number of players who have made an indelible impression on the game. Right from Sunil Wettimuny to Duleep Mendis, Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu and Muthiah Muralidaran, there are plenty who have caught the popular imagination.

Given that, there will, undoubtedly, be good players who emerge from the system to emulate Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan. It would have been fitting to see a silken century from either Sangakkara or Jayawardene on Wednesday, or a more brutal effort from Dilshan, and a competitive end to what was expected to be the most fiercely contested of the quarter-finals. But in life as in cricket, the saddest words are “it could have been”.