Cricketers & Lifestyle

Happy Birthday MS Dhoni: 5 captaincy masterstrokes that turned the match on its head

As MS Dhoni turns 42, we take a look at five moments when Dhoni’s decision-making changed the course of the game.

MS Dhoni is fresh off a fifth IPL trophy with the Chennai Super Kings as he continues to establish his dominance as one of the finest thinkers of the game from a tactical standpoint. He remains the only captain in the history of the sport to have won all three ICC white-ball tournaments – T20 World Cup, ODI World Cup and the Champions Trophy – and was required to use his tactical smarts to earn wins in each case. Beyond his success in limited-overs cricket, he was also at the helm of India’s rise to being the world’s number-one-ranked Test team for the first time.

With ‘Captain Cool’ celebrating his 42nd birthday on July 7, here are 5 brilliant decisions MS Dhoni made in the heat of the moment to earn his team big wins:

Joginder Sharma bowling the last over of the T20 World Cup

MS Dhoni

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India had been in the driving seat of the first-ever T20 World Cup final throughout but thanks to Misbah-ul-Haq’s brilliance towards the end, stood at risk of losing the match. Pakistan needed 13 to win in the last over with Misbah still at the crease. Dhoni might have trusted Harbhajan Singh with the ball, but with the off-spinner having been expensive against Misbah, Dhoni made the brave decision of going with the inexperienced medium pace of Joginder Sharma.

After the match, MS Dhoni made clear that it was an easy decision to make because of his trust in the pacer: “I thought I should throw the ball to someone who really wants to well in international cricket. Jogi did a really good job.”

Sharma would bowl a perfect yorker first ball, and would then take Misbah’s wicket two balls later, delivering on Dhoni’s faith.

Giving the ball to Ishant Sharma in the 2013 Champions Trophy

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With England chasing 130 on a slow Edgbaston surface, Dhoni’s utilization of his resources needed to be inch-perfect in the rain-shorted Champions Trophy final in 2013. MS Dhoni used his trusted spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin to choke the English batters, leaving them needing 28 off 18. Surprisingly, Dhoni gave the ball to Ishant Sharma, who had gone for 11 in the 16th over.

The decision looked questionable when Eoin Morgan hit a 6 and Ishant followed up with two wides, but the trick revealed itself when Ishant flummoxed Morgan with a slower ball. He then got the wicket of Ravi Bopara on the next ball, removing the set batters and paving the way for India’s victory. Dhoni’s understanding of the conditions resulted in a win in a very tight match.

Promoting himself to number 5 in the 2011 World Cup final

In perhaps Dhoni’s most famous and astute decision made as captain, he promoted himself ahead of India’s player of the tournament till that point, Yuvraj Singh, in the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka. Providing company to Gautam Gambhir in what was still a tricky chase following the fall of the third wicket with 160 still to get, his decision meant that Sri Lanka’s off-spinning trio didn’t get to bowl at two left-handers and pile the pressure on India. Dhoni gave himself time to get in and guided India home by taking advantage of favourable matchups.

Ishant Sharma’s bouncer barrage at Lord’s

India had struggled to find results in England, but that changed in the second Test of the 2014 tour, where under Dhoni’s captaincy they bounced back to steal a victory at Lord’s. With England needing 140 runs with 6 wickets in hand, they would have considered themselves favourites — but Dhoni had other plans. He called on Ishant to bend his back and attack the set Moeen Ali with short-pitched balls. It was a plan that would reap rewards as it at once played with England’s ego and made them uncomfortable, as Ishant would end with career-best figures (7/74) and bounce India to a famous 95-run win.

The straight-on vs Pollard

MS Dhoni seems to have an instinct for where his fielders need to be against any batter, and that was made clearest in the 2010 IPL final, where CSK were ahead but the powerful Kieron Pollard was threatening to snatch away the game from the jaws of defeat. Batting on 27 off 9 and with 27 to get off 7 balls, Pollard was always trying to challenge the straight boundary. Sensing this, Dhoni placed Matthew Hayden at mid-off inside the circle, but straighter than usual. Pollard would go for a big hit, and fall victim to this unorthodox field. Dhoni would repeat the trick against the same batter in the 2017 final with Rising Pune Supergiants, with Pollard driving the ball straight and getting caught on the boundary this time. An identical wicket would occur in Pollard’s final season in 2022 — in a famous rivalry between MS Dhoni and the Mumbai Indians, his understanding of his fiercest opponents shone through in these moments.

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