Mahendra Singh Dhoni on Wednesday played a key role in India’s record-breaking victory over Sri Lanka in the first Twenty20 International at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack.Dhoni, whose place in the T20 team has often come up for discussions by cricket pundits, shut his critics once again with his match-winning performance in the match.First, Dhoni thrashed the Sri Lankan bowlers all over the park in his blazing 22-ball 39 not out studded with four fours and a mighty six.And then, Dhoni added four more dismissals behind the stumps to his growing tally as India flattened Sri Lanka by 93 runs to go 1-0 up in the three-match series.The star batsman was also promoted up the order to bat at No.4 after India got off to a solid start reaching 101/2 in 12.4 overs.Dhoni joined KL Rahul in the middle and immediately made his intentions very clear.Sri Lanka were operating with mystery spinner Akila Dananjaya in the 14th over and that’s when Dhoni got the chance to free his arms as he came down the track in the third delivery and whacked the ball straight back past the bowler for a boundary at long on.The force with which Dhoni hit the shot forced Rahul to take evasive action at the non-striker’s end and he just about managed to get out of the way of the ball which was coming straight at him at a rate of knots. The ball went through his legs to the long on fence for a boundary.advertisementFrom there on Dhoni hit top gear and added 11 runs with Rahul before the latter departed, top-scoring for the hosts with 61 off 48 balls.Manish Pandey joined the veteran India wicket-keeper and the duo batted superbly to stitch an unbeaten 68-run partnership for the fourth wicket in just 34 balls.Both the batsmen smashed 65 runs from the last 5 overs as India ended up getting 180 for 3 in 20 overs after being put into bat.’HE ALMOST KILLED ME'”He almost killed me with that shot,” Rahul said.”He is in great shape. I don’t know what form you are talking about. Every time I have played with him or see him on TV, he scores runs. The last time we played here, he got a big hundred. I see him as motivated in the dressing room as I always have. He is contributing in every game, is someone we look up to. He is a match winner,” Rahul said.India’s stand-in skipper for the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka, Rohit Sharma made it clear that the veteran batsman will continue to bat at No.4 in future games in T20Is.”Great finish to the batting innings by MS and Manish, who hasn’t got much batting time. We can’t talk much about MSD. He didn’t get much batting in the ODIs but class is permanent. He is someone who’s played and won so many games, so moving forward, in this format, we feel him batting at No.4 will be ideal,” Rohit said.”For a long time, MS has taken up the role of finishing and we feel it’s time for someone else to do the job. MS can play freely in the middle. 180 was a great effort by the batting unit,” he added.BCCI PhotoSHASTRI SLAMS CRITICSA few former India players, including VVS Laxman and Ajit Agarkar, recently raised questions about Dhoni’s T20I future, after India’s 40-run defeat against New Zealand in a T20I in November.The comments made by cricket pundits created quite a storm in the country’s cricketing circles.However, coach Ravi Shastri hit back at critics and extended his unflinching support to Dhoni.”People should look back at their career before commenting on Dhoni. The captain has a lot of cricket left in him and it is the duty of the team to back the legend,” Shastri said.”There is no one better than Dhoni on the field given his ability behind the wicket and with the bat and his presence of mind and sharpness on the field,” he added.KOHLI DEFENDS DHONIIndia skipper Virat Kohli too came in Dhoni’s defence and slammed the critics.”First, I don’t understand why are people only pointing him out, I’m not able to understand this. If I fail three times, no one is going to point fingers at me because I’m not over 35. The guy is fit, he is passing all the fitness tests, he is contributing to the team in every way possible, tactically on the field, with the bat. If you look at the series against Sri Lanka and Australia, he did really well and in this series he hasn’t got much time to bat,” Kohli had said.advertisementIndia lead the three-match series 1-0 and will go into the second T20I at Indore with the upper hand. The next T20I will be played on December 22.
Team India most successful across formats since January 1, 2015
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