After leading India to three defeats in four games against South Africa and struggling to produce his once-devastating form with the bat, Mahendra Singh Dhoni dearly needed to deliver a positive response. And in the sides’ second One-Day International on Wednesday, the 34-year-old produced exactly that.
Dhoni excelled on a personal level, firing a superb 92 not out for his biggest score in ODIs for almost two years. As a captain, he flourished, too, with India securing a 22-run victory to level the series and provide some valuable momentum after having dropped the Twenty20 series to South Africa earlier this month.
Having walked away from the Test captaincy last year, Dhoni has been under increasing pressure to do similar in the limited-over formats, particularly after a first ever series loss to Bangladesh in June. And it was only a few days ago, in the first ODI with South Africa, that Dhoni fell short in his attempts to steer India over the finishing line with 11 runs required from the final over -- the sort of position he once flourished in. The criticism rained down, and Dhoni showed no hesitation in hitting back after his match-winning performance in Indore on Tuesday.
“It is not an easy game that we play, a lot of people wait with open swords and want you to make mistakes and have fun with it,” he said, according to The Times of India.
“It was a good game for us. There were a few soft dismissals and we didn't score something which was par on this wicket. We didn't start well with our bowling but our spinners did well and gave us the breakthrough and later the pacers also came into action and gave us those wickets which was needed at that point of time.
“So, overall I would not say it was a complete game because definitely we can play much better with our skills but it is good to win games.”
After Dhoni helped his team to a moderate total of 247, India impressively restricted their opponents to just 225 in reply. And the decisions of Dhoni and the selectors paid off handsomely, with the three bowlers brought into the side from the first ODI all delivering. The star man was spinner Axar Patel, who took three wickets, while Harbhajan Singh picked up two and Mohit Sharma the crucial wicket of South Africa captain AB de Villiers.
“Overall if you look at the win it was a complete team effort,” Dhoni added. “It doesn’t really matter if the lower order scores runs or the top order, in the same way for the bowlers if the fast bowlers took wickets or the spinners. But overall it was one game where if one of the individuals wouldn’t have taken responsibility of their particular department we wouldn’t have won this game.”
The hosts should then be full of confidence for the third contest of the five-match series with South Africa, which will take place in Rajkot on Sunday. After the conclusion of the ODI series, the two countries will face off in four Test matches next month.