The recently released book “Coaching Beyond: My Days with the Indian Cricket Team” by former India fielding coach R Sridhar is full of stories, insights, and shocking disclosures that give readers a glimpse inside the Indian dressing room. The most recent of them anecdotes include the event in which MS Dhoni’s lethargic knock during the ODI series against England in 2018 left former India head coach Ravi Shastri furious during his time with the squad 2018.
India had traveled to England for a full schedule that included a five-match Test series, three T20 Internationals, and the same number of ODIs. India maintained their momentum after winning the T20I match 2-1 and won the opening ODI match as well, prevailing by eight wickets in their pursuit of 269 runs. The Virat Kohli-led team, however, suffered a significant 86-run defeat in the second encounter.
Sridhar recalled the game and the setback, revealing that Shastri was more concerned about Dhoni’s pursuit strategy than the final score or even the margin of defeat. With a target of 323 after Joe Root’s 113-run “bat-drop” effort, India was still in the running to defeat the target after Kohli and Suresh Raina sewed an 80-run partnership. However, Dhoni was left in charge of most of the chase with their dismissal in just five overs, along with Hardik Pandya’s departure for only 21 runs. India still needed to score 133 runs from 66 balls.
“We were in the hunt when Virat and Suresh Raina were batting, but as we lost wickets, MS was left with only the bowlers for the company going into the last 10 overs. Uncharacteristically, he shut shop, and even though our required rate in the last 10 was nearly 13 an over, we only managed some 20 runs in the next six overs. That was the innings when MS got to 10,000 ODI runs a very significant milestone. We were all thrilled for him, but we also wanted to know why he hadn’t made even a token attempt at the target,” Sridhar wrote.
Dhoni was out in the 47th over after scoring 37 runs off 59 balls with just two boundaries. India ultimately lost by 236 runs. According to Sridhar, Shastri was not angry with the defeat but rather dissatisfied with Dhoni’s pursuit strategy because he knew the former India captain would not be spared the ire. Then Sridhar revealed the vehement dressing-room statement that was made in Headingley before the final game of the series, even though it was uttered during the team meeting and was specifically intended at Dhoni.
“Ravi, meanwhile, was seething. He was furious not because we lost by 86 runs, but how we lost the game, how we went down without putting up a fight. We didn’t go for the target, we didn’t go down throwing a punch, we just went down tamely The head coach wasn’t going to let that one sail harmlessly by,” he added.
“The decider was in Headingley, and we had a team meeting the previous day. The entire squad was in attendance, including all members of the support staff, and I knew Ravi was going to make a strong point. He was at his loudest and fiercest as he said, ‘No matter who you may be, there should not be another occasion when we lose a match not trying to win it. It will not happen under my watch. And if anyone does it, that will be the last bloody game of cricket they will play under my watch. You can lose a cricket game, no shame in that, but you will not lose like this.”
While Shastri did not directly mention Dhoni during his stern motivational speech, Sridhar noted that he made care to keep eye contact with the former India captain the entire time. Shastri’s speech would have frightened any other cricketer, but Dhoni remained composed and made sure he listened to every word the coach said.
“MS was sitting right there in the front, and while Ravi’s words were meant for the team, his eyes were trained on MS To the former skipper’s great credit, he didn’t flinch, he never broke eye contact with Ravi. He didn’t look here and there or fidget because one of his many admirable qualities is his ability to take the knocks, especially when he knows in his heart of hearts that he deserves them,” the former India fielding coach added.
Interestingly, a year later, during the World Cup 2019, Dhoni would play a similar inning, also against England. Dhoni went undefeated on 42 off 31 balls as India fell short by 31 runs despite having a difficult goal of 338 to chase down. India needed 71 to win off the final five overs. Fans and experts mocked Dhoni for his strategy, and while some thought it was done to prevent Pakistan from reaching the semifinal, another reason was to prevent a decline in India’s net run rate.