In any list of greatest captains in cricketing history, MS Dhoni’s name will be present, both for Tests and ODIs. The number of wins, the win percentage and all the other trivia is available on the internet. But I would like to believe that captaincy in international cricket is about more than statistics; that it is more of the style of captaincy, the personality of the captain which tends to be the deciding factor in the success of the captain.
While his stats bolster the claim that Dhoni has been a phenomenal captain for India, if there is any inkling of doubt about his mastery, his on-field decisions as a captain dismiss them once and for all. Be it giving the last over to Joginder Sharma in the 2007 T20 World Cup final, promoting himself up the order in the World Cup 2011 final, giving Ishant Sharma the over despite him being expensive in the final of the Champions trophy 2013 or the innumerable moments of brilliance in the IPL and Champions league; the man has proved that he has an aptitude for the game that few possess.
Now that his innings as Indian captain has come to an end, the question remains: how will he fare as a wicketkeeper-batsman in the ODI and T20 sides?
Let us take a look at some interesting facts. Many successful captains, whether Clive Lloyd, Ricky Ponting, Saurav Ganguly or MS Dhoni, have been observed to have the personality required for leading the national side. But being the captain is a double-edged sword. When the team is doing well, a series of bad performances by the captain doesn’t get highlighted. But when the team is not doing well, all of the captain’s problems and issues are exacerbated. Exactly this happened with MS Dhoni when his team was not performing well outside India.
Since 2011, India lost 13 of the 22 Tests they played abroad and won just 2. Dhoni finally called it quits mid-series during the Australia tour, two months before the 2015 world cup. Much was said about his retirement, but the common conclusion was that this was a good thing, done in order to prolong his ODI and T20 career, formats to which he was more naturally suited.
For cricketers to continue in one format while calling quits from the other entails a few cautions. Retirement from one format means not as much cricket played, which in turn affects the fitness and certainly the form. Sporadic matches and match practice may not augur well for the ageing body, something which has been found by most of the top players.
For instance, after Ricky Ponting decided to retire from ODI cricket he scored 157 runs in the next 6 Tests at the meagre average of 16.18, against his career average of 51.85. If we look at the career of Sachin Tendulkar, after he retired from ODI cricket in December 2012 and continued playing Tests, he scored 192 runs in four Tests with just one fifty at an average of 32.00, against his career average of 53.78. The thing about International cricket is that though players complain about playing throughout the year, after a break it takes two or three games for them to get into the groove of the game.
It is no secret that Dhoni’s hitting abilities are now waning and definitely not what they once were. He has admitted to this and has mulled about batting at number four in the ODIs while putting the onus of finishing the innings/game on the youngsters. But there are two impediments in this strategy.
First, there is no established finisher in the ODI side. In the home series against New Zealand, this weakness came to the fore on more than one occasion. With Dhoni batting at number 4, there were two occasions (the second and fourth ODIs) in the five match ODI series when the match depended on the finishers, neither of whom were Dhoni. On both the occasions, the finishers failed to complete the game.
Second, MS Dhoni coming in at number 4 means that he will invariably be playing in the middle overs which require the batsmen to rotate the strike. With the ODI rule of five players inside the circle in the middle overs, batsmen have to be adept in rotating the strike, which has not been the forte of Dhoni’s batting till recently. In the series against New Zealand, his strike rate was just 71.11. With Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma (strike rates of 70.79 and 77.84 respectively in the same series) opening the batting, both known for taking their time early in the innings, it will not be feasible for India to have three players of the top four who eat up all the deliveries and take time to get started.
MS Dhoni has been the best limited overs captain India has ever had. Look at his achievements: T20 world cup, ODI world Cup, Champions trophy, two IPL championships and two Champions leagues; it is undeniable. But to strike the right balance in the side is indispensible in any format of the game, and Dhoni has to decide as promptly as possible on the role that MS Dhoni will perform in the ODI side from now on.
If it is at number 4 he has to address the issues of finding a finisher and strike rotation. With T20 games being played in every bilateral series, there won’t be many ODI games for India till Champions trophy in 2017, and after that till the World Cup 2019.
Dhoni is expected to take a call on his ODI career after the 2017 Champions trophy in England. With just three ODI games before the Champions trophy which begins in June 2017, Dhoni needs to make his call quickly.
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