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Dhoni does not mind being a punching bag

- Captain’s innings has to rank among his very best: Paes
Leander Paes on Sunday

Chennai: Mahendra Singh Dhoni not only got the MoM award for his superb unbeaten 113, on a Chepauk wicket with moisture, but a hug from Leander Paes as well.

“Dhoni’s innings has to rank among his very best... I watched a part of it... At the break, I went over to the dressing room area and gave him a hug for a job really well done,” Paes, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, told The Telegraph on Sunday evening.

“I know the past few weeks haven’t been easy for Dhoni, but the fact is that he’s one of India’s finest captains... A leader of men... I have a lot of respect for him,” Paes, who is busy promoting his maiden film, Rajdhani Express, added.

The film is scheduled to hit the multiplexes on January 4.

Paes stayed on till the end of the first ODI, which Pakistan won rather easily (six wickets and 11 balls to spare).

“India didn’t win, but I still gave the players a pat... It had been a hard day in office for most of them... The series isn’t over and I hope we bounce back,” Paes commented.

Paes has some juggling to do and has a challenging week ahead of him. For, besides promoting Rajdhani Express, he’s committed to playing the doubles in the Chennai Open, which begins on Monday.

As for Dhoni, while the days when whatever he touched turned to gold are over, he’s giving it his best shot.

For much of this season, Dhoni has become a punching bag, but that’s not a problem for him.

“I don’t mind whatever is said about me. I also don’t mind being the punching bag. Helps because it puts less pressure on my players...

“For a long time, Sachin (Tendulkar) was doing this job... Taking all the criticism, all the pressure. Now, I am there. I am the captain and I am responsible for the performances...

“It’s good that I take all the tension and the others don’t have to,” he stated at the post-match media conference.

Typically modestly, Dhoni didn’t talk too much about his innings, which began with India 29 for five.

“It was a good innings, but I don’t have plenty of hundreds to choose the best from... One of the best, yes,” Dhoni pointed out.

The first 50 runs took an eternity, with boundary No.1 coming in only the 79-th ball. The second 50 was rocket-like, leaving Pakistan stunned.

Dhoni, who was run out on 99 in the recent Test in Jamtha, has five hundreds at the very highest level and eight in ODIs.

On December 23, Dhoni completed eight years as an India cricketer.

Footnote: Speaking exclusively, Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq acknowledged that he’d indeed been “lucky” to win a toss which made so much of a difference.