Dwaine Pretorius has started to believe he can do anything on a cricket field, thanks to MS Dhoni. After a season with the Chennai Super Kings, and four stints with Dhoni at the crease, Pretorius has had first-hand experience of how to combine calm and confidence to pull off a successful chase.
"The biggest thing I learnt from him is how calm he is at the crease and how much he tries to take pressure off himself and put it onto the bowler," Pretorius said, from India, where South Africa will play India in five T20Is starting on Thursday. "He made me realise that at the death, the batter isn't under more pressure, it's actually the bowler that is under more pressure.
"As a bowler, you can still lose the match if you have to defend 18 off the last three balls and as a batter you can win it. It was a fresh mindset. He doesn't get too excited. He doesn't get too down on himself. Anything is always possible and I love that about him. He is very optimistic. He believes he can do anything."
Pretorius and Dhoni's most memorable partnership came on April 21, against Mumbai Indians at the DY Patil Stadium. Chasing 156, CSK needed 50 runs off 26 balls when Pretorius walked out to bat. He was greeted with a searing yorker from Jasprit Bumrah and went on to hit two fours off the next two times Bumrah tried the delivery. By the time Pretorius was dismissed, CSK needed 17 runs off five balls and Dhoni got them home, with a four off the final delivery.
That match stood out for Pretorius as an example of how Dhoni can take matches deep, and even though Pretorius is not South Africa's usual batting finisher, he'd be willing to do the job if needed. "I am going to try and bring that into my game: the calmness but also that self-belief that from any position, any game can be won."
But it wasn't all celebratory at CSK this season. The franchise strung together their worst set of results in their IPL history and finished second from bottom on the points table, having gone into the tournament as defending champions. Despite the disappointing outcome, Pretorius said the mood in the camp did not dampen and they've chosen to take the long view as they rebuild following a mega-auction.
"What was nice about the CSK franchise is that it is very experienced. We all understand that cricket doesn't always go your way," Pretorius said. "It's very important to just take the positives out of a bad season and try and build for a stronger future. It's all about building for the next year or three years and trying to make sure a bad season is not a complete loss."
He called the CSK environment, "performance based," where players were "given a lot of responsibility to prepare like you want to, come up with the plans that you believe will work and making sure you execute your plans."
While Pretorius didn't pick up anything particularly new that he could use in the international T20 game, he made a case for one of the innovations of the IPL - the strategic time-out - to become a more prominent part of fixtures.
"I enjoy it quite a bit. I know it makes the game a bit longer but it just splits the game into three parts - the one before, the one in the middle and the one after. It gives each team a moment to assess their strategy and what's the best way to go forward," he said. "And it's about getting the coach - that will always have an objective view from the outside's opinion as well. It makes the game a bit more liquid and it breaks up momentum."
Primarily, Pretorius is batting for the time-out for the same reason he enjoyed watching Dhoni bat: because it gives anyone an opportunity to make a big play. "Even if you might be out of it for the first few overs, you can always come back into the game after the strategic time out. It just breaks the momentum of either the bowling or the batting team," he said. "It makes it quite interesting."