MS Dhoni's batting has dominated all the talk in the ODI series against Australia. The common factor involving all the results was the debate surrounding his strike-rate and finishing prowess. In Sydney, he was panned for his super-slow approach for India’s 34-run loss while in Adelaide, the aura of Dhoni seemed to be back as he guided Virat Kohli's side over the line in a tense match. The effort in Adelaide tore social media apart. Many Dhoni fans stated that the finisher is back. There were many doubters that still persisted. There were many former cricketers who sang Dhoni’s praise. Sunil Gavaskar said, “Leave the gentleman alone. The value you cannot calculate at all.” Before the Adelaide knock, Rohit Sharma stressed on the value that Dhoni provides.
The major question is: Is the criticism and adulation of Dhoni in extreme measures justified? Let us look at the critics. Many people cite the example of 2018 in which Dhoni had a poor year, both in terms of high scores and in terms of strike-rate. One website went to the length of dissecting his strike-rate minus the fours and sixes and presented his statistics in a much poorer vain. One other major website stated that his average against the spinners had dropped alarmingly and pointed out that this had hurt the team on numerous occasions. His inability to guide India over the line in the series against England has been the major sticking point. However, after his knock of 87* in Melbourne to help India win a bilateral series for the first time ever in Australia and with his exploits in Adelaide, the doubters probably have no place to hide and are on shaky ground.
When it comes to support, people have pointed out his average in successful run-chases. Following the Adelaide win, one graphic stated that Dhoni’s average is close to 100 in successful run-chases, which is more than Virat Kohli. His brilliance in Melbourne has probably taken it well past 100.
Numbers not in perspective
When it comes to numbers game in cricket, it is often a question of picking and choosing a sample size. In the case of Dhoni, it is important for foreground and background when it comes to analysing his contributions. When one looks at the whole picture regarding MS Dhoni, 2018 is just a mere aberration when it comes to strike-rate and average. In all the corresponding years since 2018, starting from 2005, his strike-rate has gone down below 80 only since. His average also has dipped below 40 only once since 2018 and that was in 2016 when he averaged 27.
However, the crucial factors in 2016 and 2018 have been the number of balls faced. Out of all the years, in these two years, he has batted at No.4, No.5, No.6 and No.7. Coming in those positions, he has faced the least amount of deliveries in his entire playing career. In 2016, he faced 347 deliveries while in 2018, he faced just 385 deliveries. In all the other years, he has never faced less than 450 deliveries. During his peak years, which were from 2007 to 2009, he faced over 1000 deliveries. With Dhoni, the prominent trend which has been his blueprint is that he has a slow accumulator who has accelerated at the end. In 2016 and 2018, perhaps Dhoni has not had the time to settle in and go for the kill. This has led to misjudgment when it came to the right time to accelerate.
There have been instances when he has not gotten the team over the line. There are prominent instances of Dhoni not guiding the team over the finishing line. In Birmingham in 2014, in Lauderhill in 2016 and in the games against Zimbabwe, Dhoni could not finish the job off. However, that was in Twenty20 Internationals. The Sydney ODI appears to be a mere aberration to the norm but the situation was that he had come when the team was reeling at 4/3 in four overs.
Does India have a problem with MS Dhoni and his ‘slow’ batting? The verdict is actually split. The numbers are subjective. However, Adelaide showed that he still can do it, provided other batsmen lay the foundation for him. With his sheer volume of experience, one might be tempted to say the criticism of Dhoni is slightly ‘unjust’. Following Melbourne, criticism of Dhoni might need tremendous factual justification.