| Shoaib: Bull and red rag
Faisalabad, Jan. 23: Back in the hotel after an excellent day in the park, Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to the Doordarshan channel telecasting highlights of Day-III. He wanted to relive moments which effectively finished Pakistan’s chance of forcing a win in the second Test.
“One of the best counter-attacking innings I’ve seen,” is how Team India captain Rahul Dravid praised his wicketkeeper, who hasn’t just transformed our one-day cricket, but provided a cutting edge to the lower order in Tests.
Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, observed: “Dhoni’s an aggressive and intelligent cricketer. It was brave of him to take on Shoaib Akhtar. To survive, he had to and did a fine job.”
Dhoni took guard on 258 for four and, not much later, saw Sachin Tendulkar depart. That the maestro need not have walked, but waited for Simon Taufel’s ruling on the appeal for caught behind, is another story.
So, at 281 for five, India were staring at the possibility of being forced to follow on. The second new ball was hard and Shoaib fired up. Apparently, Dhoni’s pre-tour comment that the “team” was ready to tackle him had infuriated the mercurial speedster.
If Shoaib was the bull, he obviously saw Dhoni in teasing red. He bounced, sledged. The Rajput that he is, Dhoni didn’t flinch. “I had no choice. I couldn’t duck or weave away as those pitched short had to be played. Plus, I didn’t want Shoaib to have the momentum,” he told The Telegraph.
The first Indian ’keeper with a hundred versus Pakistan, Dhoni ended the day on an unbeaten 116 (180 minutes, 123 deliveries, 14x4, 4x6). With him was Irfan Pathan, on 49. They erased the previous (sixth-wicket) highest by India in bilateral face-offs and took the score to 441 for five, 147 short of Pakistan’s first innings.
Besides runs off Shoaib -- a pulled six, for example, was stunning -- Dhoni engaged in eye-contact and almost ran into him while crossing over with Pathan. He didn’t dwell on the ‘chirping’, but did say he himself “never abused”.
The sledging was countered with a wide grin. Ask any speed merchant and he will confirm that infuriates even more. Shoaib, by the way, wasn’t the only culprit. Shahid Afridi and substitute Mohammed Sami often chose to unleash their rather colourful vocabulary as well.
Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle, one understands, has “cautioned” stand-in captain Younis Khan at an informal hearing after stumps. He promised “better behaviour” after being ticked off for his players’ conduct.
Getting back to Dhoni, he pointed out that his maiden Test hundred came in his fifth appearance -- just like his first (148, in Vizag last April) in ODIs, which also was against Pakistan. “It’s an interesting coincidence,” he added, smiling.
According to Dhoni, coach Greg Chappell had “predicted” he would get a hundred on Tuesday, but couldn’t have been unhappy at being off by a day. “Greg, I suppose, didn’t expect me to bat today itself.”
Asked why he hardly showed any emotion on reaching the hundred, Dhoni replied: “Actually, I was wanting to, but decided to remain calm and not get carried away. Of course, I’ve got a hundred, but the team must get one more than Pakistan’s 588. I won’t restrain myself then.”
Close to stumps, Dhoni suffered cramps and bled from the nose. “Theek hai. I’m fine. The physio (John Gloster) took care of the cramps, while the bleeding was because of the cold. Nobody need worry.”
Pakistan’s worrying, though, won’t end till he’s evicted.