Champions Trophy: MS Dhoni the finisher at finishing line

Buoyed by the success of the Bollywood biopic factory, if the producers of ‘Dhoni, the Untold Story’ plan a sequel, they would struggle. The reason being Dhoni 2.0’s script would lack an important component – a winning climax.

Not that there haven’t been enough chances in recent times – the 2015 50-over World Cup, the World T20 in India last year, or even this year’s IPL final. Each time, the stage was beautifully set for Dhoni to repeat the April 2, 2011 impact, but each time he failed.

And now, the clock is ticking – MSD is running out of time. He might not mind mocking journalists in a public space when quizzed about his international longevity but Dhoni is intelligent enough to understand that off-field cockiness won’t take him too far from here.

The ability to score runs at the crunch was the cornerstone of the Dhoni phenomenon for more than a decade. But it’s no longer the same. A key word from the MSD dictionary is missing: consistency. He does win a few here and there, but play this year’s IPL final in your mind and you will know where he is going wrong of late.

Now, it’s over to the Champions Trophy – a tournament that prolonged his captaincy career four years back. He had gone into the tournament playing dumb charades with the media just after the IPL match-fixing controversy had broken out, and the sword was hanging precariously over his head. But the team led by him had an outstanding five-game streak that gave them the title and silenced all possible criticism.

This time around, things are equally complicated, albeit on a different front. In 2013, nobody was questioning Dhoni’s place in the Indian team, but now many are. And it has a lot to do with the emergence of a talented youngster from Delhi by the name of Rishabh Pant. He is as exciting as the Dhoni of early 2000s, and there are many who believe that the Delhi boy should have been on that plane to England.

But it’s a call that the Indian team management doesn’t want to take, at least not before a tournament as important as Champions Trophy. So they have gone for the experience of an out-of-form veteran than a talented teenager who is still a bit of an unknown quantity under pressure situations.

But there’s a rider. Dinesh Karthik, a talented cricketer reduced to a fringe player because of Dhoni’s excellence over the last decade, is also there in the Champions Trophy squad. He had a terrific domestic season and in case Dhoni starts faltering in the initial stages of the tournament, captain Virat Kohli has a ready-made replacement option in place. As improbable as it may sound, the truth is that Dhoni has to deliver in order to hold on to his place in this team.

But then again, we are dealing with Dhoni here – the ultimate survivor Indian cricket has ever seen. There’s no need to reiterate how Dhoni has fought obstacles in a rather nonchalant way all his life. There were very few who believed in him when they saw his rather unorthodox – bordering on the uncultured – way of batting in the early 2000s. But there was one who did -Dhoni himself.

The word self-confidence is synonymous with Dhoni. There’s no one who knows better than Dhoni himself whether he is still the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the country. We can pin down his lack of batting consistency to his age, the diminishing hand-eye co-ordination, but the man himself still believes he can overcome those obstacles.

People close to him insist Dhoni will mind walking away from the limelight the moment he feels he is not good enough. And if he is still playing limited-overs cricket, it’s because he believes that there’s something more to give. The white ball and the English conditions will probably test his belief and ability. The Indian batting line-up isn’t looking as solid as it has in limited-overs cricket of late, and it might come down to Dhoni on a few occasions to bail India out of trouble.

He has done it over and over in the past and India would like to believe he still can. He has been the ultimate finisher. No one can question Dhoni’s contribution to Indian cricket and it would be fantastic if he gets a chance to stay till the 2019 World Cup. But in a world where the stakes are so high, there’s only one parameter that counts: performance. Is Dhoni up for it?

That question will be answered by the third week of June.
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