India has arrived in South Africa with a very dismal track record in the rainbow nation. On the previous tours, India had lost 5-2 in 1992-93, 4-0 in 2006-07, 3-2 in 2010-11, and 2-0 in 2013-14. However, the history and past records went for a toss as Virat Kohli’s men dismantled South Africa to seal a historic series.
On Tuesday (February 13), India defeated the hosts by 73 runs to go 4-1 in the six-match series. And one of the prime reasons behind India’s dominant performance is the role played by the spinners. India’s much-talked-about wrist spin combination of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav performed exceedingly well. Both of them have taken a combined 30 wickets in the series so far. But while the performance in South Africa has underscored the spinners wicket-taking prowess, the two had a streetwise MS Dhoni to thank for hand-holding them to success.
In a country where the spinners tasted little surface, the two spinners made the surfaces look like spinners’ haven. The wicket-keeper kept dishing words of wisdom to the young spinners, and the result is there for all to see.
The 36-year-old was heard advising the leg spinners to vary their line and length for different batsmen.
“Chahali, halka tez, halka aage (Chahali,a little pace and pitch it up a little further).” Or the more specific “Woh ghoomane waalaaa (the one that turns)” were some of the comments from Dhoni directed towards the two young spinners after every ball. The young tweakers fully cashed in on Dhoni’s priceless advise and played an integral role in the historic triumph.
In the first ODI, the spinners had helped India restrict the hosts to 269 for 8. During the following game, the two picked up 8 wickets as the Proteas were all out for just 118. In the third game, both the spinners starred once again as South Africa were all out for 179 while chasing 304.
The fourth ODI was an off day for the spinners, but they bounced back in style in the fifth game. Kuldeep picked up 4 while Chahal picked up 2 as India bowled out the hosts for just 201 to win the series.
Such has been Dhoni’s contribution that even Kuldeep admitted that Dhoni has been pivotal behind the spinners’ good performance.
“We are youngsters, and we don’t have that much experience. That is why he (Dhoni) keeps telling me what to do in what situation. And the mindset comes from the captain. Virat bhai always tells us one extra wicket is more important than trying to save 10 runs. If your captain tells you that, then you start believing in yourself,” Kuldeep had said after the second ODI.
Dhoni’s role is not restricted to spinners. The former India skipper does not shy away from instructing his successor Virat Kohli too. From fielding placements to advising bowlers and shuffling them, Dhoni ‘s role of immense importance to this team. Add to it, his contribution with the bat and the gloves.
Dhoni provides the much-needed solidarity to the team’s fragile middle-order. In the fourth ODI, when the likes of Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya failed, Dhoni remained till the end, scoring 42 to help India post a good total. His wicketkeeping is even more impressive. Despite being on the other side of the 30s, Dhoni’s reflex is better than most of the wicketkeepers. The way he stumped Aiden Markram in a blink of an eye to become the first India wicketkeeper to reach 400 ODI dismissals, it is safe to say that he still has a lot to offer.
In fact, he has been so impressive that chief selector MSK Prasad recently admitted that the country does not have Dhoni’s replacement at the time being.
So while Dhoni’s batting abilities are declining with every passing day, he has been a pillar of strength for the team. His calm and authoritative presence behind the stump is the perfect gloss to the aggressive Virat Kohli.