“Magnificent Mahendra. He is unbelievable in so many ways.” These words from Ian Bishop, said moments after MS Dhoni’s mindblowing finish in a low scoring thriller against Sri Lanka in Trinidad, in the Tri Series finale of 2013, in a nutshell, describe the aura and charisma of the Indian veteran. Dhoni’s finish prowess remains so enigmatic that whenever the term finisher comes to the fore, it is just the former India captain’s portrait which comes to mind.
That evening of mid-2013 wasn’t just a regular evening, as something extraordinary had occurred. Needing 15 to win off the last over and with just one wicket in hand, Dhoni finished off the game successfully, with a couple of deliveries to spare. More than the victorious final, it was the Jharkhand marauder’s serene composure which stunned everyone, as he stood emotionless despite the chips being down for good. Not to forget, barely 48 hours before that final, he was ruled out of the game with an injury, but somehow, he managed to fit himself in. And yes, somehow managed to put up an absolute spectacle!
Forward to four years later and in close proximity to that venue of Trinidad itself, you come across a shade of MS Dhoni, which is nowhere near the confidence, aura and panache of that soul from four years ago. In a similar game against West Indies, needing just 190 to win, when Dhoni walks in, India are 47 for three, but still in the driver’s seat. What the wicketkeeper does for the next two hours simply shocks the globe, as he fails to connect even half crack deliveries, which he earlier would send out of the park even in half his sleep!
Watching Dhoni bat at Antigua becomes extremely painful and gory for the eyes, as he struggles on a slow pitch, against two strictly okayish spinners. Mind you, these spinners in the form of Ashley Nurse and Devendra Bishoo, who share just 56 wickets between them in 41 games and are nowhere near to be termed as “daunting”. A majority of the Ranji sides possess spinners of a far superior quality than that the of the current West Indies outfit, still one can witness Dhoni just blocking his way through and making a dead game far lively.
Ultimately, he perishes on the final delivery of the penultimate over, as India shockingly lose to a team that didn’t even qualify for the ICC Champions Trophy.
Who is termed as the culprit? It’s MS Dhoni, for his monotonous 114 ball vigil of 54, which turns out to be the only knock in ODI history, where no boundary was hit till the first 100 deliveries!
So after going through the horrifying struggles of Dhoni, just one question comes to mind – What is Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s future in the Indian Team?
For starters, this has been Dhoni’s precise form since the last couple of years. This wasn’t the first time fans witnessed Dhoni struggling to such an extent. Ever since the 2015 World Cup came to an end, the veteran keeper batsman has become a liability with the bat. While in the modern day arena, the batsmen are expected to boss the game and get going from the very offset. This holds particularly true for batsmen batting in the middle order and with an extra fielder allowed outside the circle for the final 10 overs, overs 30-40 hold far greater significance.
Let alone dictating terms from the first ball, Dhoni at present, requires at least 25 to 30 deliveries to get into the double figures. This can be game changing if he comes out to bat anywhere after the 25th over mark. The presence of such an aspect means that as crucial overs as lost, Dhoni is just getting his eye in. Yes, he can surely make up for that at the death if he stays, but despite that, the team is bound to fall at least 20 runs short due to the runs missed while Dhoni was just settling in and blocking deliveries.
The more worrying aspect about Dhoni remains in his highly inconsistent approach these days. Using the word inconsistent with Dhoni sounds criminal, as he is a guy who still averages in excess of 50 in this format. But there are reasons behind doing so. After he drives India out of trouble with a fine knock of 134 on a flat surface, you expect him to play a knock of a similar class in the very next game. Rather, he struggles to time, and after facing 36 deliveries, departs for 25, and in the end doesn’t just waste up deliveries, but also chokes the momentum. This was his sad tale during the last two ODI’s of the home series against England in January.
Since 1st April 2015, Dhoni’s numbers have taken a hit for worse. An average of 43.34 might still seem decent, but it’s his diminished strike rate of 84.85 that is more worrying. For a guy who usually bats in the last ten, a strike-rate which diminishes over such a vast sample size is surely not a good signal. In his last eight innings at home, Dhoni has scored 367 runs, at an average of 45.9, but the strike rate stands at 84.6.
While these numbers seem good for an opener, the strike rate figure indicates distressing signs if you bat below four in the batting order. As of now, there’s just one way Dhoni can be accommodated in the current ODI setup. That is if he bats at number four.
As a finisher, Dhoni is history and expecting him to replicate his heroics from the past would be mere fantasy. The only thing that can happen is if he bats up the order and then sticks till the death to explode in style. Even that sadly at present, doesn’t guarantee him to be a match-winner of the calibre he previously was.
This is precisely why the upcoming ODI series in Sri Lanka will be extremely important for Dhoni. The management must back him to excel at four and give him the run of an entire series. If he strikes form, then well and good. If he doesn’t, it could be time to groom someone raw and far more lethal.
Personally, watching MS Dhoni get back to even his 80% would mean that the Indian ODI team is a blessed outfit.