The win in the Caribbean gave India back-to-back ODI titles. The ICC Champions Trophy was a high-profile affair, but if one considers the backdrop, India couldnt afford to fail in the tri-series as well. Cricket barely figured in Dhonis press conference before he left for the Champions Trophy. Questions flew thick and fast about Chennai Super Kings, Gurunath Meiyappan, cricket betting and spot-fixing. The skipper didnt answer them and was sharply criticised for his non-chalance.
Dhoni was walking a tightrope when he went to England for the Champions Trophy. There was the Meiyappan issue. Also, there was that alleged conflict of interest case as it was argued that as Indias captain, he couldnt be a stakeholder in a sports management company that looks after the endorsements and commercial interests of three of his teammates. Dhoni could hear the sharp clang of the cynics sharpening their knives, and lesser mortals would have wilted under such pressure. But he is different.
His captaincythe way he used his two spinners, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, in the final power-play overs in the Champions Trophy finalwon India the trophy. In the West Indies, he pulled a hamstring in the first match, couldnt play the next three, returned for the final, though not fully fit, and powered India to title. There are some excellent finishers in limited-overs cricket at the moment. AB de Villiers and Eoin Morgan are fantastic at the death. Virat Kohli, too, has the ability to control the chase. But Dhoni is in a different league altogether. He has a hundred-plus average in successful chases.
Can he be called the greatest ever in the shorter format Sachin Tendulkar has 18,426 runs in 463 ODIs with 49 centuries. Ricky Ponting has 13,704 runs in 375 matches and 31 centuries. Jacques Kallis has a tally of 11,498 runs from 321 ODIs with 17 centuries. But cricket is not just about the numbers. In any case, Dhonis figures are impressive enough7,358 runs in 226 matches with eight hundreds and a strike rate of 88.17 are awe-inspiring by any standards. And most of these runs have come batting in the middle-order, when the field is spread out and tail-enders are lining up to give him company. An awful lot of his innings (one of his best came in the 2011 World Cup final) proved to be the difference between victory and defeat.
Impact wise, only Adam Gilchrist and Michael Bevan could be worthy comparisons. Gilchrist was one of the biggest impact players the game has ever produced. Not only did he change the concept of an all-rounder, but also always shone the brightest in an Aussie constellation, especially in the limited-overs format. A career strike rate of 96.94 speaks volumes of his ability to decimate opposition bowling. Batting alongside Matthew Hayden with Ponting, Damien Martyn and Michael Hussey to follow, however, had its advantage. It helped Gilchrist be relaxed, play freely and pick his spots to perfection in the first 15 overs. Bevan was the anchorman at number 6. He used to be Australias biggest crisis man in the 1990s. But the southpaw never had Dhonis power punch.
Its not easy to choose the best. And there will always be some valid counter arguments in such debates. But Dhoni has had the additional burden of captaincy and is always under pressure to satisfy one billion fans. Dhoni is not just blessed with good cricketing sense, but he also has an exceptional ability to use pressure to his advantage. Limited-overs cricket, perhaps, has never seen a complete package like him.