Flowing locks and a Lashing willow announce the arrival of Mahendra Singh Dhoni at Vizag
5th April, 2005 , Vishakapatnam District Cricket Association Stadium, Vishakapatnam
‘I knew that even 350 might not be enough’ – Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Talking about Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the stylish Sri Lankan cricketer, Mahela Jayawardene once famously remarked – “One inch here and there and a guy like Dhoni could take you apart. He is a great finisher, he is cool and calm and backs himself. He is a strong character.”
Along with the likes of Michael Bevan, Michael Hussey, Javed Miandad et al, Mahendra Singh Dhoni or ‘MSD’ as he is popularly known all around the world, qualifies as one of the most clinical finishers to have graced the game. A classic example of this enviable attribute is the much quoted, analysed and adumbrated captain’s innings executed by Dhoni in the final of the 2011 World Cup. His unbeaten innings of calm, composure and character, ended a 28 year old wait for India as the much elusive trophy was finally wrested back home.
This pioneer of the ‘Helicopter’ shot, the once-possessor of long locks (a hairstyle that won the admiration of even the former Pakistani President Parvez Musharaff), and the architect of many a thrilling victory first shot into the limelight with a blistering knock essayed against India’s arch-rivals Pakistan. Playing in the 2nd One Day International at Vizag in the 2004-05 home series, Dhoni gave a taste of things to come in future when he stamped his authority in a run-fest.
India’s captain Sourav Ganguly won the toss and on a scorching hot day had no hesitation whatsoever in choosing to bat. Sehwag quickly got into his usual groove and set the ball rolling. Sachin Tendulkar however did not last long to make full use of the conducive conditions as he was run out after scoring just a couple of runs. The young Mahendra Singh Dhoni was sent in to enhance the tempo of run making. When Dhoni arrived at the crease India were 26/1 in the 4th over.
Starting off with a fierce drive off Mohammed Sami that sent the ball crashing into the mid-off boundary, Dhoni signalled his intent and purpose. A blistering drive through the covers off Afridi soon had the Pakistani all-rounder all charged up and expressing his vociferous dissent at the treatment meted out to him. This tirade was first met by Dhoni with a calm smile and then was immediately followed with a monstrous shot that sent the ball soaring over the extra cover boundary. With the impetuous Sehwag going about his patented merry ways at the other end, and with the flat, placid and dead track containing no hint of malevolence, the Pakistanis were beginning to comprehend that the heat being felt was not merely the courtesy of a blazing sun adorning the clear skies over Vizag. The duo brought up the 50 run partnership from just 34 deliveries as India raced to 81 in the 9th over of their innings.
With the score on 122, a breakthrough was achieved by Pakistan when Rana Naved-Ul_Hasan poached Sehwag whose offer of a catch to Salman Butt was accepted gratefully by the latter. Hopes of a revival were given a realistic boost when Sourav Ganguly was bowled by Mohammed Sami after scoring a meagre 9 runs. India were now 140-3, with just over 30 overs remaining. But if the Pakistanis had hopes of firmly planting the brakes on this fast scoring clip of the Indians, M.S.Dhoni certainly had other ideas and he proceeded to firmly implement and impose them in a breathtaking manner. With the score at 146, Dhoni clocked his first 50 in One Day International cricket. With an able ally in the redoubtable Rahul Dravid, Dhoni now proceeded to exhibit an exhilarating array of impetuous shots that had the bowlers in a veritable bind. The spinner Arshad Khan was singled out for some special treatment as Dhoni proceeded to ruffle him up. First going inside out over extra-cover, he smote the bowler for a massive six over the mid wicket boundary when the bowler tried to adjust his line and length.
A brief ray of hope flickered in the collective eyes and hearts of Inzamam and his men, when on 77, Dhoni came charging down the track to a Mohammed Hafiz floater and miscued a skier towards the fielder patrolling the deep-midwicket boundary. Much to the collective chagrin and disappointment of the Pakistani team, Rana Naved who came racing in to collect the catch failed to get his hands to the ball. As the ball rolled over the boundary ropes, a resigned Inzamam-ul-Haq went down on his haunches in a show of undisguised dejection.
Determined to ensure that much damage and ruination would be the consequence of the Naved lapse, Dhoni continued to pile on the pressure. Without much ado, he duly raised his bat to the adulation of a packed house as he proceeded to notch his first one-day international hundred. He celebrated the occasion by hammering Shahid Afridi to the square leg boundary for a rasping four. Now playing freely, Dhoni began to open his broad shoulders and strike the ball with venomous power and panache. Coming down the track to a bemused Shahid Afridi, he deposited a seemingly well disguised googly into the upper tiers of the stands situated beyond the deep cover boundary. Even the heat of the blazing sun and extreme tiredness could not contrive to put paid to the intentions of this marauding machine as Afridi was once again deposited high, and wide, over and beyond the deep-midwicket boundary. This particular Shahid Afridi over went for 14 runs with the run-scoring sequence being – 1,0,0,6,0wd,6. Undaunted and undeterred the man with the burgundy tint hair continued like an automaton programmed to wreak havoc. A spell-bound and hollering capacity crowd was treated to an innings the likes of which would be an absolute rarity. Runs flowed freely and flawlessly from the willow of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and every single part of the ground was peppered with strokes of confidence, control and class. Just when a perplexed Aamer Sohail in the commentator’s box began wondering aloud as to how on earth Dhoni could be stopped, the mayhem finally came to an unexpected end. Just when it looked as if M S Dhoni would shatter a few world records and send a nation into excelsis, he perished holing out to Shoaib Malik while facing Mohammed Hafiz. India were now 298-4 in 41.2 overs and Dhoni has scored 148 of those.
This breathtakingly brutal knock of Mahendra Singh Dhoni was studded with 14 chanceless boundaries, a solitary miscued boundary and 4 gigantic sixes. He had faced a mere 123 balls and had against his name a strike-rate of 120. Though all the Pakistani bowlers were put to the sword without any impartiality and with equanimity, Shahid Afridi was the predominant sufferer, conceding 47 runs to Dhoni from the 30 deliveries that he bowled to him. This incredulous, irreverent and impudent innings that knocked the wind of the opposition sailings was characterised by a combination of brilliance and brute force. With a pitch offering virtually no swing or seam movement, Dhoni repeatedly hit through the line and more often than not was on his front rather than the back foot. Even though he was assiduous in essaying the pull stroke, it were the resounding drives that fetched him most of the 148 runs.
A well-made 52 by the solid & stubborn Dravid and quickfire cameos by Laxmipathi Balaji and Zaheer Khan at the end of the innings ensured that India amassed a huge total of 356 in their completed quota of 50 overs. Even though the Pakistanis responded to this formidable challenge in a game manner, they ultimately fell short by 58 runs. Abdur Razzaq and Mohammed Yousuf (Yousuf Youhana then), distinguished themselves with knocks of 88 and 71 respectively. Dhoni also scalped two batsmen behind the wickets.
The 5th of April 2005 had seen the messianic arrival of an astute, admirable and assiduous cricketer, with whose fortunes in the future, the fortunes of his country would be inextricably linked. And yes on that sultry, sweltering and sun-ravaged day at Vizag, the score of 356 had proved to be more than adequate for India, assuaging the concerns of a young man who felt that ‘even a score in excess of 350 might not be defendable’ on an absolute flat-track’!
Result: India won by 58 runs
(Next: Virat Kohli’s vengeful veneer at Dhaka)