In 2010, a wiry teenager named Jaydev Unadkat, fresh from a sensational domestic, as well as IPL season, was handed a Test cap by MS Dhoni. Debuting against the likes of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers would have been a gut-wrenching experience for him. It turned out to be a torrid outing: he went for 101 runs without picking a wicket.
Six and a half years later, Unadkat was back to his bowling mark, with Dhoni behind the stumps, yet again. Not in the capacity of a captain anymore, but Dhoni still guided Unadkat, and was back to orchestrating the moves, during the nail-biting win against the Mumbai Indians.
There has been a lot of hue and cry over Smith piping Dhoni to the captaincy role for Pune this season, and how the Australian had stated that he won’t be taking “multiple opinions because it clouds judgement”.
After Ben Stokes completed a tight over to leave the equation at 17 from 6, Steve Smith had a task on his hands. With Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya, two power hitters were in the middle, margins were narrower than they seemed.
He fell back on the former Indian captain, with the experience of captaining India in 331 international matches and 143 IPL matches, for advice.
During the change of ends after the 19th over, Smith ran towards Dhoni, threw a quick question at him and then stood back and listened intently, like an eager student.
Dhoni started spilling out his advice, and was joined in by Ajinkya Rahane, captain of the India team in the final Test against Australia last month. Dhoni then suggested his field placings, gesturing towards the off side where he indicated two fielders be put.
Smith obliged and placed one fielder at sweeper cover, and another, Ben Stokes, at widish long-off.
On the strike was Hardik Pandya, who made his international debut under Dhoni’s captaincy last year. The hard-hitting all-rounder predominantly plays in the V, targeting the long on and long off region, as he had showed in a single over against Ashoke Dinda earlier in the IPL.
Unadkat bowled the first ball short and wide, taking the pace of the ball in the process. By giving Pandya width and rolling his fingers on the seam, he left the batsman with no choice but to slap the ball towards the off-side.
Ben Stokes, stationed at widish long-off, covered considerable ground and pulled off a sharp, low catch in the deep.
As Pandya trudged back to the pavilion, Smith and Unadkat returned for a mini-discussion with Dhoni, who would have briefed the Australian about the playing style of Rohit Sharma, his India teammate for a decade now, and the batsman on strike. Smith stuffed the off-side with fielders.
Rohit knew that with a packed off-side field, Unadkat will be invariably targeting the area outside off. He walked across the stumps and hoicked the next ball into the stands.
The next ball was bowled wide of the off-stump, but a shuffling Rohit negated the prospect of it being a wide. Dhoni applauded Unadkat from behind, knowing fully well that the ball was a legitimate one.
Rohit, seething with rage after having left the previous delivery, went after the next one, and ended up ballooning a catch to the bowler.
Even on the last delivery, with ten required, Dhoni ran to Unadkat to push in the gentle reminder that he shouldn’t bowl a no-ball, and should keep his calm. Unadkat went for a six, but the game was won by the Pune franchise.
The match ended, and Dhoni started walking off with the team. Suddenly, Unadkat, with Shardul Thakur and Manoj Tiwary alongside, surrounded him, as he gave his analysis of the final over with the youngsters listening intently.
He might no longer be the captain, but he is still the undisputed leader.