“Chai peene ka time ho gaya. Chai peene ka mausam bhi hai. (It’s time to have some tea. It’s the kind of weather to have tea)” With that MS Dhoni walked off from the indoor net he’d been facing the bowling machine in for nearly half hour. He was right too. The Sydney skies had gone from sombre to dark grey and there was a heavy drizzle in the air. It left the Indians huddled up in the indoor practice area, and Dhoni had been among the first ones to get involved.
He’d hit about a 100 deliveries before his impromptu tea-break. Most of them had throwdown specialist Raghu getting the bowling machine to simulate Adam Zampa as Dhoni looked to try shots that will help him rotate the strike in a match scenario.
It was a typically relaxed Dhoni otherwise, as he ambled around cracking jokes when he wasn’t helping Raghu retrieve the balls he’d shot down. And the call for tea, his preferred drink on any day regardless of the weather, was just a routine extension of his innate calmness and of how nothing seems to have changed with this facet of Dhoni’s cricket.
In contrast, a lot has changed with the dressing-room that the former captain returns to in Australia. For starters, he’s not just the oldest but to some, senior by two or three generations. What has also changed unfortunately for the 37-year-old veteran are his numbers in the middle with bat in hand.
Dhoni is coming off his most underwhelming year of his career as an ODI batsman. It was the first year where he failed to score a 50 since his maiden outing in 2004, when he only played in 3 matches. His 2018 average of 25 in 13 innings was also his poorest ever.
Most glaringly, it was also a year where his strike-rate dipped to 71.42. It was only the second time in his long run as one of 50-over cricket’s most dominant batsmen that he was striking throughout a year at less than 78 runs per hundred balls.
It happened in 2010, when his strike-rate over 17 innings stood at 78.94, but it was a year where he averaged 46.15 and scored 1 century and 3 half-centuries. And you know it’s certainly not been a Dhoni year when you see that he managed to hit only 19 fours and 2 sixes across 13 innings, especially when you consider he faced 385 balls overall.