MS Dhoni first impressed me on my first India tour back in 2006.
The then unorthodox keeper demonstrated an incredible calmness as his fellow countrymen flocked to watch him have hair cuts and drink coffee! I thought it was wonderful how he had dealt with his rise from ignominy to rock star status within in the space of 18 months.
This calmness and perspective has become a trademark of Dhoni’s batting, especially when chasing down seemingly impossible targets.
This was evident again in the week when MS took his Rising Pune Supergiants to victory from the last ball of the game against David Warners Sunrisers Hyderabad Team in the IPL.
Dhoni went along at a run a ball as the RpO climbed and climbed in the middle overs. He watched Ben Stokes come and go and waited his time. After 23 balls of his innings, MS had only 26 runs to his name and the game looked beyond Punes’ reach.
At the start of the 19th over David Warner threw the ball to his own bowling “finisher” Bhuvneshwar, the best seam bowler in the 10th edition of the IPL. He decided to close out the game with his best man there and then rather than leave his Superstar bowler until the 20th over.
Bhuvi went for his trusted wide yorker and got it slightly outside of the wide mark. He knew he had to keep the ball out of the Dhoni strike zone - keep it out of reach, hide it!
Some commentators accused Kumar of losing his bottle with the rest of the over as he then came back into the stumps, tried to hit the straight yorker and then went the “Dhoni-distance”.
Sure, Bhuvi made a poor choice with balls 2, 3 and 4 but then again, bowlers can be pressurised into poor decision making when facing off with the most consistent and brilliant batting finisher of all time.
Dhoni’s last 11 balls accrued 35 unbeaten runs!
Dhoni hit an extra cover drive to finish the job and whilst Steve Smith and his RPS team were going bananas on the sidelines, MS quietly approached his opponents, shook them each by the hand and walked off the ground as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
So how does MS do it?
What has he got that others don’t when faced with pressurised run chasing challenges?
Take the game deep
That calmness that I witnessed back in 2006 has multiplied over the years in the IPL. Dhoni knows that if he takes the game deep and if he is still in when it comes to the last 18 balls of the innings and then anything is possible.
MS knows that with 47 runs required off of 18 balls that the pressure is on the bowler not to lose the game. The level of pressure is far more significant than that placed on the batter who is facing him in this context.
And this, I believe, is why Bhuvi shifted from his normal plan after bowling an offside yorker wide in the first ball of the 19th over.
Dhoni often takes on the best and most consistent bowler, using their skill and consistency against them. It was no coincidence that Bhuvneshwar was the man in Dhoni’s sights. He has done it to the likes of Anderson, Steyn and Malinga in the past.
Calmness comes from having done it before
The knock on Saturday was Dhoni’s 15th occasion where Dhoni has been not out in a successful IPL run chase. As I say to the players at school, there is no better feeling than walking off with a not out score in a winning run chase.
Dhoni remembers every winning run chase. He knows how he did it and sticks to his guns.
In the main, he hits the ball past and over deep mid on, splits the gap between fine leg (up in the circle) and deep square leg and beats the extra cover on the edge of the circle on either side.
Every opposing bowler knows this and yet have been powerless when counteracting Dhoni over the past 11 years. He hasn’t changed his style or method when finishing games one bit. He doesn’t ramp or flick the ball as we see with other players.
He has simply mastered his own method.
A yorker hitting expert
Dhoni has practiced and practiced his ability to shift his body to get under the length of an incoming yorker, the “go-to” ball of virtually every “closing” bowler in World T20 cricket.
He doesn’t actually move inside or outside of the line of the ball, he steps back slightly, drops his back knee towards the ground which shifts his centre of mass backwards and enables him to strike a ball that would hit the toe of my bat with the middle, sending it on an upward trajectory.
Allied to this technique is an incredibly strong upper body and very stable legs. His lower half creates a great base for the shot, catapulting energy up through his kinetic chain and into his arms and hands.
His bat speed through the yorker is incredible.
MS Dhoni has a yorker strike rate of 163 and a full strike rate of 171 in his IPL career.
Good luck with those yorkers lads!
The simplicity of genius
Dhoni displays an excellent yorker hitting technique and has supreme clarity when it comes to his his solving the yorker scoring problem which troubles so many of his IPL contemporaries.
The bowler trains his whole life to be able to deliver that very ball and so MS trains his hitting technique to be able to use the consistency and accuracy of the bowler to benefit himself and his team.
People who are described as having genius are often depicted as being complex thinkers. MS Dhoni is a “finishing” genius yet his method is incredibly simple and highly repeatable. Ultimately, he is just being very smart and incredibly logical.
How to build “fear factor”
I have seen MS practicing his method time and time again on practice grounds on days leading up to ICC events or ODI matches. He is often doing it when the opposition international team arrive for their own training session. He is showing his opponents what he can do, he is building up the “fear factor” a couple of days out from competition.
There is no secret to his technique, he doesn’t want introduce funkyness into his game or to keep his skills hidden away like the Crown Jewels: Dhoni wants his opponents to know what he is going to do as he backs himself to deliver his skill to a greater extent than his opponent when the pressure cooker rises!
Most people dream of a batting yorker Strike Rate of 100.
Can you learn to Finish like Dhoni with a yorker strike rate approaching 163?
Why not give it a go?