Sydney, Jan 23: The pressure was building. Fans were getting restless. Comments started to flow. And India's most successful captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was in the firing line. But the end result turned out to be in his favour - an Indian win at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) and with that avoiding the humiliation of a 0-5 whitewash against Australia. It all happened with one crucial six.
Chasing a record 331 to win, India were powered home by Manish Pandey's brilliant maiden ODI ton (104 not out off 81 balls) and Rohit Sharma's 99. But the finisher Dhoni struggled in the middle. It was not the Dhoni of the old.
Known once to unleash big shots at will, the 34-year-old Dhoni proved that age had slowed him down. The power to smash bowlers all around the ground seems to be on the wane. But when it mattered, he blasted a six, that too in the final over, off medium pacer Mitchell Marsh.
With 13 required off the final 6 balls, Dhoni was on strike to Marsh. Two years ago, nobody would have doubted Dhoni's abilities. But it was a different scenario today. All through the series and before that - in the domestic tournament (Vijay Hazare Trophy), he had failed to rediscover his touch.
The first ball was a wide one, outside the offstump. The next ball, a low toss, was dispatched, by only just, over the boundaryline in the long-off region. A six. Huge relief for Dhoni and all his fans. 6 required off 4 deliveries.
Dhoni goes to repeat the shot but is caught at long-off. Dhoni exits for 34 off 42 balls (1x4, 1x6). His strike rate of 80.95 was the lowest in India innings today for batsmen who faced more than 12 balls. But Pandey ensured victory with 2 balls to spare.
At that stage, Dhoni's six was invaluable. If not for it, India could have been in trouble and Dhoni might have been blamed. But after enjoying a 'life' (dropped on 7 by Nathan Lyon) and a close LBW appeal on 15, Dhoni saved himself and the team.
Before the tense climax, Dhoni was struggling in the middle. He changed his bat, gloves but timing of the old was not there. He was 6 off 17 balls, then 17 from 32. But in the end, when needed, Dhoni played the big hit. And India won.
After the match, former India batsman VVS Laxman felt Dhoni, the batsman is not the same what he was couple of years back. "I am convinced that his striking power has come down," Laxman said on "Star Sports".