Nothing better describes MS Dhoni’s conquests for India in one-day cricket for the most part of his career.
Dhoni is one of the greatest ODI batsmen to have played the game. He has scored 10,123 runs at a staggering average of 50.61 and a strike rate of 87.85. He is only one of five batsmen in the history of ODI cricket to average above 50 (min. 70 innings). He is the only one amongst them to aggregate above 10,000.
Stats prove that he is also arguably the best finisher ever in ODI cricket (though Kohli is gaining that reputation lately) – even better than Bevan. Dhoni could clear the boundary at will, the Aussie southpaw could not.
Dhoni is a colossus in ODI cricket. While his legacy will remain untouched there is no doubt that his batting numbers have dwindled in the last few years.
This fall has been quite apparent to any observer of the sport. He is not the same finisher, he does not have the same hitting prowess, his run-aggregate has fallen.
But how much have the numbers declined? Is the fall significant enough to look for replacements?
Let us dig deeper.
A DRAMATIC FALL IN STRIKE RATE
Dhoni had an exceptional run between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. But the downfall started thereafter.
He has scored almost 8 runs per dismissal lower than his overall average post the 2015 WC Down Under. More problematic is his strike rate which has fallen by over 12 runs per hundred balls from Phase 2 to Phase 3 (refer to image above). Run-Rates and ODI totals have only gone upwards (courtesy T20 cricket) – keeping this in mind, Dhoni’s declining strike rate is a huge concern for India given that he bats at number 5-6.
Dhoni last scored a century (134) against England in Cuttack on the 19th of January, 2017. Since then, in 30 innings, he has scored 873 runs at an average of 45.94 (average boosted by 11 not outs). The consistency of his run-making has also gone down – as indicative by the frequency of his 30+ scores which has gone down to almost one every three innings.
More alarmingly, his strike rate is only 76.84 in this period. That is poor from any standard – an indicator of Dhoni’s form especially when it comes to hishitting prowess.
This can also be seen from the percentage of sixes he has hit in Phase 3– one every 10 overs – taking 18 balls more on an average to clear the stands from Phase 2.
Dhoni averages just 28.13 in 2018. His strike rate of 67.37 in 2018 is also the lowest (year-wise) in his 15 years since ODI debut.
INABILITY TO SCORE BOUNDARIES
Dhoni’s dot ball percentage has been the highest last three years. It was the highest for any year in 2018 – he did not score off more than half the balls he faced. His Boundary Percentage (percentage of runs in boundaries) has dropped to just 32.89% this year.
INABILITY TO ROTATE STRIKE IN MIDDLE OVERS
Dhoni is failing to maintain a healthy strike-rate in the middle overs (overs 11-40). This can be seen in the rise in the number of balls he is facing to score a boundary in this period. Dhoni, in 2018, on an average, has scored a boundary every 4 overs in the middle overs.
The problem is compounded in Dhoni’s case – not only have the 4s and 6s dried up, his ability to rotate the strike by picking up the ones and twos has also reduced considerably. This can be seen from his dot ball percentage which has risen in the last three years. As a result, his strike rate in this period is an abysmal 61.86. This is also putting added pressure on the non-striker and the batsmen to follow.
FAILING TO PROVIDE IMPETUS AT THE DEATH
Dhoni’s dual problem in the final 20 overs is this – neither is he contributing the big runs nor is he producing the cameos. He is consuming too many deliveries for his first 20-30 runs and then getting out. So there is no impetus at the end.
Dhoni, on an average took 2.25 deliveries to get off the mark in 2015 (post WC 2015). This increased to 2.33 in 2016, came down to 2.05 in 2017 but has increased to 3 in 2018.
His initial 10 runs took 12.14 deliveries, on an average, in 2015 (post WC 2015), rose to 15 in 2016, 15.60 in 2017 and are at an alarming high of 16.57 deliveries in 2018.
Not only does he put enormous pressure on himself by these slow starts but also on the non-striker.
Dhoni has the lowest strike rate (and that too by some margin) amongst the top run-getters in overs 31-50 since 2017. Not surprisingly, he has the highest dot-ball percentage too.
His boundary percentage of 41.71% is the lowest amongst the top-10 run-getters from Number 5/Number 6 position since 2017.
Dhoni is no longer the great finisher he once was. His strike rate in the final 10 overs is just 80.61 in 2018. He has been unable to score off half the balls he has faced in this period.
THE GREAT CHASER – NO MORE
Dhoni is one of the greatest chasers in ODI cricket history. But post 2016, he is not a fraction of the great chaser he was in the second half of the previous decade and the beginning of 2010s. His batting average and strike rate, both, have fallen drastically in chases (since 2016).
Dhoni averaged 50.92 and scored at a strike rate of 83.45 in chases between his debut and WC 2011. It was the third-best average in ODI cricket in that period.
His average in chases rose to 61.11 between the two World Cups (end of WC 2011 to end of WC 2015). Only AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli averaged more with the bat. Dhoni also scored at a fair clip of 82.46 in this period.
Remarkably, his Winning Average (average in matches India won) in chases was 132.66 in this period – an indicator of what a great chaser and finisher he was.
Dhoni has not been an iota of the chaser he was since 2015 (though the real fall happened post 2016). He averages just 34.15 and scores at only 69.78 per hundred balls in chases in this time-frame.
In terms of average he is down at number 63 out of a total of 69 batsmen who have batted second in at least 15 innings in this period.
It has been a mighty fall for Dhoni purely in terms of his batting prowess.
The arrival of a certain Rishabh Pant means that India now have an alternate option available.Pant has had a great start to his Test career – not only has he got runs but he has got them quickly.
Although his average in List A is just 28.89, it is his strike rate of 104.35 which stands out.
Moreover he has been in good form having scored 473 runs at almost 114 runs per hundred balls at an average of 39.42 in his last 15 List A matches.
But it would be unfair to judge Dhoni only by his batting numbers.
His role as the designated wicketkeeper and his experience as a former captain are invaluable. And crucial for India’s fortunes.
WHAT WORKS FOR DHONI
Are we being unfair to Dhoni when we compare him to the own high batting standards set by him?
Yes, Dhoni is no longer the batsman he was but his numbers are still comparable to other wicket-keeping batsmen - even in the last couple of years.
Only Quinton de Kock has scored more runs than Dhoni in this period. And even in terms of averages, Dhoni’s 46.34 is second again only after Kock (48.92).
If we see Dhoni as an all-rounder (with Keeping as his primary role), then surely an average in excess of 45 is outstanding. Even after considering a strike rate of 78.55.
To add to that, Dhoni’s keeping and swiftness behind the wickets is several notches above any other contemporary Indian keeper.
He also brings with him a wealth of experience – not only as a batsman but also as a captain. With the World Cup barely seven months away, this assumes paramount significance and will be invaluable to India and Kohli in crunch situations and moments and the big matches. Dhoni has led India to two World Cup wins – one in 20-20 in 2007 and the other in ODIs in 2011.
His advice to Kohli on astute fielding positions, strategy, tactics will be crucial to India’s success.
So would be his understanding of the Decision Review System (DRS) – an art and craft he has mastered – no other captain has made better use of the DRS. Dhoni has the knack of getting it right almost every time he asks for a review – so much so that the system is casually referred to as the Dhoni Review System! This will be pivotal in the latter half of the tournament and the knockout games (India is expected to reach the semis).
Also, Dhoni’s cool and calm temperament in high pressure situations will be extremely beneficial and critical for the other players.
This suggests Dhoni still plays a pivotal role in the Indian ODI XI.
What Dhoni the batsman cannot offer now is compensated by what Dhoni the player still can.
First Published: October 20, 2018, 8:45 AM IST