Dharamsala ODI: MS Dhoni’s Bold Tactical Decisions and Virat Kohli’s 85* Give India a 1-0 Lead

MS Dhoni’s gambles with team selection and bowling changes ensured that India restricted New Zealand to 190 in the Dharamsala ODI. 

Just four days apart were the conclusion of the three-Test series and the start of the five-ODI series between India and New Zealand in Dharamsala. And New Zealand’s batsmen, with yet another poor showing with the bat, reminded us that “recovering” from a string of failures in one phase of a tour is an uphill task always.

Before the Dharamsala ODI, I had a feeling that Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor, of all other New Zealand batsmen, will feel comfortable batting against the white kookaburra ball and thereby make the Blackcaps an altogether different proposition in the ODIs. But at the HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala, the Guptill (12)-Taylor (0) duo, along with the other frontline batsmen in the New Zealand side, showed that they have not recovered yet, from the poor time they collectively had in the three-Test series against the no. 1 ranked and Virat Kohli-led Indian Test side.

New Zealand found themselves at 7-66 at the start of the 20th over, but thanks to some wonderful rearguard action from Tom Latham (79*), Tim Southee (55) and to an extent Doug Bracewell (15), New Zealand rose up to 190 in 43.5 overs.

And, for all the good work the Indian bowlers did, there was one largely unsung hero in the Indian side who plotted New Zealand’s downfall and ensured that the hosts continued to dominate them. Yes, guys, we indeed are talking about MS Dhoni, who stays away from the spotlight most of the time and goes about his business quietly and effectively.

Here’s how he was instrumental in India restricting the Kiwis to 190 and then chasing the target down with 101 balls to spare!

How MS Dhoni Masterminded India’s Win in Dharamsala

In Cricfooty‘s preview of the Dharamsala ODI, we had said that Dhawal Kulkarni, and not Umesh Yadav, was likely to be the bowling partner for Jasprit Bumrah, the new spearhead of the Indian ODI bowling attack. But Dhoni had other ideas, as he has for much of his time as Indian captain, and included Umesh in India’s playing XI. Not only did the Vidarbha pacer play but he also opened the bowling for India.

Umesh Yadav gave India a head start by removing Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in back-to-back deliveries—the last delivery of the fifth over (4.6) and the first ball of the seventh over (6.1)—and with these strikes, really broke the spine of the New Zealand batting line-up. In addition to the crucial wickets he picked up, Umesh, fielding at mid-off, took a spectacular catch to dismiss Corey Anderson and helped India reduce New Zealand to 4-43 in the 11th over. Umesh was definitely one of the standout players in India’s win in Dharamsala, but we cannot forget the brilliant call, in hindsight, made by the Indian ODI and T20I skipper.

An even bigger decision was giving one of the two new balls to Hardik Pandya, India’s 215th ODI player, and getting him to open the bowling with Umesh. Unlike Umesh, H Pandya was not a doubt to play, but giving him the new ball was a huge token of faith from MS Dhoni, but also a gamble. And boy… how big a masterstroke did this decision prove to be!

H Pandya is an all-rounder, so I could have understood if he had come on to bowl as the one-change bowler but again, the decision to give Pandya the new ball was a freak one, if you want to call it, from Dhoni.

Pandya, though, exuded a great bowling rhythm and was consistently bowling in the early 140s, that too on the day he was making his ODI debut and received his ODI cap from Kapil Dev, one of the all-time great all-rounders, in a team meeting this morning. He has also gone on to clinch the man-of-the-match award, making a memorable return to the Indian limited-overs’ side after being dropped for the Zimbabwe tour.

Despite hitting the right lines and lengths from the word go, H Pandya went for 13 runs off his first five deliveries, which would, however, not have shaken his confidence because of the way those runs were scored. On the very next delivery, he landed the ball on Guptill’s off-stump, from where it straightened, induced the outside edge and Rohit Sharma, at second slip, ensured the ball didn’t pop out of his grasp after hitting his midriff. This delivery was the highlight of Pandya’s seven-over spell, in which he took 3-31.

Thirdly and finally,

Suresh Raina was out with a viral fever and Dhoni was expected to be handicapped, as Raina is the kind of part-timer who gives his skipper five, six, or even seven relatively economical overs. MS Dhoni, though, was not afraid to use Raina’s replacement, Kedar Jadhav, for a few overs during the middle phase. Jadhav, who was a certainty to play in place of the stricken Raina, had reportedly bowled during India’s net practice session yesterday, so Dhoni was proactive and had prepared himself to make the most of the resources that were available to him for the Dharamsala ODI.

At the fall of Luke Ronchi (0), James Neesham joined Tom Latham and with two left-handers in the middle, MS Dhoni could not bring Amit Mishra or Axar Patel, India’s two frontline spinners, into the attack. So what Dhoni did in Raina’s absence? Bring on Jadhav, also a part-time off-spinner.

Jadhav struck James Neesham’s pads (on the last delivery of his first over) with a delivery that straightened after pitching and should have had his man. Bruce Oxenford, the umpire in question, turned down the appeal, though, wrongly. Jadhav returned to bowl his second over, in which he sensationally took two scalps: Neesham and Mitchell Santner. Jadhav has taken only one wicket in first-class cricket till date, but playing his seventh ODI for India, the 31-year-old middle-order batsman took two wickets that reduced New Zealand to 7-66 and put India firmly in the driver’s seat.

At this stage, we were able to say that every tactical decision made by MS Dhoni had paid off. And, despite a resurgent batting effort from the New Zealand tail in harness with opener Latham, India had only one or two wickets to take and ideally restrict the visitors to below 200, having had them on the mat from the very beginning.

Closing Thoughts

Virat Kohli (85*), who has orchestrated India’s chase of 191, fittingly scores the winning runs to take India to a completely dominant six-wicket victory in the Dharamsala ODI. New Zealand need to play a lot better if they are to recover from another thrashing on this tour and give India a game, at least, before heading home.

What and who were you impressed with, guys, in the Dharamsala ODI? Share with us in the comments section below. 

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