India had lost the second T20 to New Zealand on November 4 way before the second ball of the 20th over. However, in spite of the match being pretty much a lost cause and no approach likely to be of much consequence, MS Dhoni, on 49 – one short of his second T20 international half century – refused to take a single.
A ball before this, Dhoni had hit his second six. In Dhoni's universe, he often refuses to take singles, denying the strike to batsmen he undoubtedly considers to have lesser hitting prowess than himself – either overall or at that precise moment.
So, in the final over, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, not yet off the mark, was, at least in Dhoni's mind, going to be of lesser impact than himself.
Dhoni was dismissed on the next delivery, on 49. Such is his match awareness, and perhaps general awareness of both himself and people's perception of him, that it can be argued that he was possibly thinking one of the two things – at least give the crowds something to cheer with another six or two, or doing what came naturally to him, take the onus upon himself, even in a lost cause.
Dhoni tends to deny the strike to batsmen with lesser hitting prowess than himself. Photo: India Today
Perhaps the first time we got a sense of this Dhoni quirk in an international was when he denied Ambati Rayudu the strike repeatedly, against England in 2014.
From September 8, 2014 (ESPN Cricinfo)
"He had the experience of finishing off similar chases in the past. It would have been unfair to expect a scratchy Ambati Rayudu to do the big hitting, in what was his T20I debut. Declining three singles in seven balls when you have a specialist batsman at the other end was definitely not the right approach. It undermined Rayudu's credentials and cost India the game."
Chasing 181 that day, India lost by 3 runs. Dhoni finished with a 27 off 18 deliveries, Rayudu 3 off 5 deliveries. Both remained not out. Playing as a batsman, Rayudu walked in to bat at seven after bowling all–rounder Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni was captain in that match.
Rayudu since then played five more T20 internationals for India (his last in June 2016), with a highest of 20.
In that game from 2014, as in Saturday's, Virat Kohli was India's highest scorer. Co–incidentally with somewhat similar scores – 66 off 41 deliveries (9 4s, 1 six) that day, 65 off 42 (8 4s, 1 six) on November 4.
It would seem that both Kohli and Dhoni are stuck in a rut. As are India's selectors, team management and cricket–watching public. While Kohli's rut is a batting masterclass, Dhoni's needs to be examined further.
While Dhoni's cricketing mind continues to evolve, as is obvious in his leadership role even under Kohli's captaincy (this was evident in the recently concluded ODI series vs New Zealand), his batting often gets the same comment from VVS Laxman and others on air – "Dhoni nowadays needs those extra few deliveries to warm up before he can get into his stride".
On Saturday's innings, chasing an asking rate way in excess of 10 runs per over, Dhoni at some point was striking at less than a run a ball. That in spite of the six.
But Dhoni is not alone – India's overall T20 batting is very much stuck in the 50–over format, one that both Dhoni and India continue to master.
Regardless of the series outcome, India continues to embarrass some very good longer-format batsmen by picking them for an entirely different game, which, let's face it, T20 is.
A suspicion that Hardik Pandya may not be the fifth bowling option further complicates the team's selection.
On Saturday, Dhoni walked out to bat at six, with no serious batting cover to follow – which is not to belittle Bhuvneshwar Kumar's recent surge with the bat (26 off 15, 2 4s, 2 6s less than a fortnight back) and more significantly, the 72 runs off 8.5 overs in partnership with Dhoni vs Australia as recently as on September 17.
Bhuvi finished with 32 off 30, Dhoni 79 off 88.
But that's an altogether different format. To watch Dhoni come down the track only to play the ball back to the bowler or a fielder within the circle has become a common sight. It works for him and for India in ODIs. It doesn't with Dhoni low down at six in T20s.
Dhoni may still be the finisher, though not with the same impact, and needs to be re–examined as the nourisher in T20s, batting no lower than four. Also, the question needs to be asked – is there time and place for a nourisher in T20s? If yes, for how many?
It may not be a bad thing for Dhoni to take a re–look at himself. And his batting partner at the other end. Let others fail at not finishing the game for a change.
It's not easy being Dhoni. Not even for Dhoni these days.