The Australian summer is over and the Indian team can be very proud of what they have – victories in the ODI and Test series following a stalemate in the T20Is.
But as the dust settles on the long tour and Virat Kohli leads his men across the Tasman Sea down to New Zealand, he will know that bigger than the victory in the ODIs is the return to form of his former commander, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The 2019 World Cup is knocking on the door and India's middle is still a muddle with only 10 ODIs to be played before the grand event. It has been nearly two years since the Champions Trophy and four since the last World Cup, yet the management has not been able to replace the country's premier man for quadrennial events, Yuvraj Singh. The spot, still up for grabs, has not remained vacant for lack of experimentation either – Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik and Ambati Rayudu have all wielded their willow but none to success par dependability.
But for long that spot did not bother India too much for they had the bank of Dhoni to follow – a man who could absorb everything with unflappable calm and then take off on a 'helicopter' shooting down the opposition at the death. Dhoni, with his Zen-like qualities, was a genius to the extent that his presence – even with no arsenal – signalled battle and his departure meant impending forfeit.
Yet, every good thing must come to an end and who can fight universal truths - not even the might of Dhoni. It seemed his powers kept waning with every match. The man who was always two steps ahead of the game suddenly seemed two behind and the quiet murmurs of the finisher being finished kept gathering sound.
Amid all the noise, one man kept backing the man who had once guarded him through middle finger trials and brash gestures. When the media fired one shot at Dhoni, Kohli rebut with two in their direction.
"I don't understand why people are pointing him out. If I fail as a batsman three times, no one is going to point fingers at me because I am not over 35. The guy is fit, he is passing all the tests. He is contributing to the team in every tactical way on the field. With the bat, he did really well against Sri Lanka and Australia," said Kohli in November 2017 after a T20 series victory against New Zealand.
After the series in England last July, Kohli said, "We all have bad days and today was a bad day for everyone, not for him alone. It's unfortunate that people jump to conclusions quickly. When he does well, people call him the best finisher ever, and when things do not go well, people pounce on him. We totally believe in him and the ability of all the players."
Kohli's belief in Dhoni was understandable given the overdependence on the top order and the underperformance of the middle order but the question was whether Dhoni himself constituted the problem. Thus as the World Cup started drawing closer, concerns grew because no team has ever won the World Cup without a dependable middle order.
Perhaps the best individual World Cup campaign with the bat was Sachin Tendulkar's in 2003 but that was not enough. Sachin's moment came 8 years later, with Yuvraj at 5, Dhoni at 6 and peak Suresh Raina at 7. Thus it was imperative for the captain in Kohli to find a way to reawaken the bank of dependability in Dhoni.
So when India started the ODI series in Australia on January 12, of far greater context was Dhoni's batting than the series itself. Seven days and three half-centuries later, Dhoni is the man of the series and muddle in the middle for India suddenly looks solvable.
While even in success it is evident that Dhoni is not the player he once was and needs a supporting hand, he has shown enough to suggest that he is not finished; and while every good thing must come to an end, Dhoni has enough in him to delay that end.
People say a lot of things on the outside. As an individual, I know that nobody is more committed to Indian cricket than MS. People should give MS his space. He is a very intelligent cricketer and he knows what he is doing," said Kohli to the media after India's 2-1 series victory and it can be safely stated that this series-defining performance by Dhoni is a triumph of Kohli's faith in the former captain.
If not anything else, this series has shown that if June comes by tomorrow and India needs someone to guide a run chase – and India will – the finisher, well into his last lap, has enough fuel in his tank to run and eventually swing his team over the finishing line.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Business Times, India.