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Why MS Dhoni Is The Best ODI Captain Of This Era

10/03/2015 6:37 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Matt Roberts - CA via Getty Images
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 20: Mahendra Singh Dhoni speaks to media after day four of the 2nd Test match between Australia and India at The Gabba on December 20, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts - CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

India's match against Ireland on Tuesday turned out to be a cakewalk. The doughty Irish, having come through a series of close matches, were expected to scrap hard against M S Dhoni's team, but fizzled out rather early in the match.

Not unusually, the greater accolades were reserved for the batsmen, notably man of the match Shikhar Dhawan, who made a chancy, but stroke-filled and thoroughly entertaining ton which helped India reach the target with more than 13 overs to spare.

A century in the World Cup is a very big deal, and Dhawan has now done this twice over, so the praise was well-deserved. But examine the match narrative, and the role of the bowlers, especially the spinners assumes greater importance.

Indian players celebrate the dismissal of Ireland's Andrew Balbirnie during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Hamilton, New Zealand, Tuesday, March 10, 2015.

And because it was the spinners who swung this game India's way, the credit accrues most to skipper M S Dhoni, who not only defied calls for including an extra pace bowler, but in fact used his part-time spinners to such good effect that Ireland's innings got derailed in the middle overs.

Ireland had got off to a fine start with Stirling and Porterfield scoring at more than five an over. The pitch was flat, the square boundaries short and the outfield fast. It appeared then that India would have to chase 300-plus, always psychologically daunting whatever the batting strength.

But the success of the spinners was the outcome of astute tactics by Dhoni. He read the pitch quickly, realized there was not much in it for the pacemen, brought in the slow bowlers early and rotated them around cleverly.

That's when the spinners came, choked the batsmen with their tight control over line and length and also picked up important wickets to ground the buoyant Irish team. The anticipated late flourish after the good start never came about, and India were left to chase a modest total.

But the success of the spinners was the outcome of astute tactics by Dhoni. He read the pitch quickly, realized there was not much in it for the pacemen, brought in the slow bowlers early and rotated them around cleverly.

Off spinner Ashwin, in fine form through the tournament, was clearly his lynchpin. But Dhoni flummoxed everybody, especially the opposing batsmen by deploying part-timer Suresh Raina over frontline spinner Ravindra Jadeja.

Between them, Ashwin and Raina bowled 20 overs for just 78 runs and picked up three wickets. Sensing the tentativeness of the Irish players against the slow stuff, Dhoni also used Rohit Sharma for a few overs.

While the 10 overs Sharma and Jadeja bowled between them went for 66 runs, this was fewer than what Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav conceded in the 10 overs they shared.

This was splendid thinking by Dhoni for he marred Ireland's game plan which would have been built around on how to manage the 30 overs the seamers would bowl. They bowled only 30, only the in-form Mohammed Shami getting his full quota.

There had been much debate before this match whether India would replace the struggling Jadeja with Stuart Binny. Conditions in New Zealand had helped seam bowling right through the tournament, but Dhoni preferred to play to his strength, which was spin, and to keep his winning combination intact.

The ability to read the game differently and place full faith in his players has made Dhoni unarguably the best captain of his era in limited overs cricket.

Going against conventional wisdom, of course, is not new to Dhoni. He works out his own stratagems, backs his players all the way and - as has been seen so often in the past - often gets the laggards to suddenly become match-winners.

The ability to read the game differently and place full faith in his players has made Dhoni unarguably the best captain of his era in limited overs cricket. The fact that India won their ninth consecutive match in World Cup tournaments, and that he now has the highest number of wins by an Indian captain in ODIs is testimony to Dhoni's grip on limited overs cricket.

Typically, he underplayed his own role in India's striking performances in this tournament. "We are a happy side, we are enjoying each other's company, we want to win," is how Dhoni described India's dramatic surge.

Considering all the pedantic theorizing that led to England's downfall, this seems like a refreshing mantra for achieving excellence. But this has to necessarily flow from the man at the helm. For the moment at least Dhoni seems to be in cruise control.

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