Indian Selectors Blind to Dhoni’s Potential As No.4 Batsman
Dhoni’s career graph shows that he is a better batsman higher up the order.
When India took on Sri Lanka in the first Test of the home series on a green tinged wicket at the Eden Gardens, no one would have expected them to collapse as they did in the first innings. It was a fiery spell from Suranga Lakmal that bowled India out for 172. It seemed like an ideal wake-up call before the grueling tour of South Africa and the Indian batsmen promised to learn from their mistakes.
As the ODI series began with the first match at the picturesque Dharamsala, they were presented with another pitch that had a little tinge of grass and moisture. It seemed more or less harmless. The Indian batsmen were confident of doing well on that pitch as the newly appointed skipper—Rohit Sharma—lost the toss and was asked to bat first.
However, Lakmal once again did the damage as India found themselves reeling at 29/7. The Indian team had every chance of getting bowled out for the lowest total in ODI history. But, there was one man standing who had saved India on numerous such occasions. And just like previous times, he helped India to some sort of a respectable total of 112 with a fighting knock of 65 runs off 87 deliveries. He was none other than MS Dhoni.
What that innings highlighted was the difference in the way Dhoni and the rest of the Indian batsmen approached their innings. His game awareness, game reading ability and the ability to adapt in different conditions seemed unmatched as none of the other Indian batsmen was able to deal with the splendid swing bowling of the Sri Lankan quicks.
More importantly, the innings once again brought up the question why the Indian team management is hesitating to make Dhoni their regular number four batsman despite his match-saving performances in recent times. His knocks of 45* against Sri Lanka at Pallekele and 79 against Australia at Chennai were the main highlights of his performances this year. And not to forget his innings of 134 earlier this year against England at Cuttack that resulted in a record fourth wicket partnership of 258 runs with Yuvraj Singh after India were reeling at 23/3.
Dhoni’s instant big hitting abilities might be on the wane. His value as a T20 batsman may not be that much as compared to other players at present. However, he is still an irreplaceable and invaluable asset for India in ODI cricket. In 2017 alone, he has scored 781 runs in 27 ODIs at a staggering average of 65.08 that includes a century and six scores of fifty as well. And an overall strike rate of 84.43 this year also suggests that he is as effective with his big hitting abilities as he was earlier in his career.
Of those 781 runs that he has scored in this year, 398 runs have come while batting at No.5 and that too at an average of 56.85. And 318 runs have come while batting at No.6 at an average of 79.5 while 65 more runs have come batting at No.7 at an average of 65. A better average lower down the order might give the impression that Dhoni performs better when he bats lower down the order. However, most of the times he scored runs while batting at No.6 and 7, he had walked out to bat as early as the 20th over of the innings. That gives an idea how he builds the innings before going berserk at the end. So, Dhoni produces his best when he gets to bat from the early part of the innings. He has an innate ability to play the role of a sheet anchor and that is the reason behind his success in difficult conditions when most of the other batsmen fail to perform.
Even his career graph will show that he is a better batsman when batting higher up the order.
His averages of 82.75 and 58.23 at No. 3 and No. 4 respectively are the best. Another thing to look at is his strike rate at those positions which stand at a staggering 99.69 and 94.80 respectively. The best batsmen in the team should always occupy the top half of the batting order. Since Kohli is a must have at No. 3, the next position should be occupied by the next best batsman in the team who is none other than Dhoni.
What's more fascinating is the fact that the last time he batted at No. 4 and No. 3 were way back in 2006 and 2009 respectively. When he was handed over the mantle of captaincy, he selflessly left his preferred batting positions for youngsters like Virat Kohli so that they could grow into the players they have become today.
“About the batting bit, if I ask him where he wants to bat, I know what kind of a person he is. He’ll tell me ‘wherever you want me to bat’. I know he is like that, but I would love to see him bat higher-up and totally enjoy his cricket. If MS Dhoni enjoys his cricket, and plays the way he has in his initial years, the team is in a very solid space,” Kohli had said in an interview with BCCI.tv earlier this year.
However, Dhoni is still following his same ideals as he is trying to accommodate the youngsters in more responsible batting roles to build the team for the future, even after relinquishing captaincy. But, it is the Indian team management and think tank’s decision to let the youngsters bat higher up the order. Since, most youngsters have had their chances at No. 4 and most of them have failed to show consistency, it is finally time to accommodate Dhoni at that position keeping the 2019 World Cup in mind.
Moreover, since it will be held in the pace friendly English conditions, it becomes more important for Dhoni to bat higher up the order considering Indian batsmen’s weakness against quality seam bowling. His proactiveness at the crease, the way he comes down the tract against pacers to negate the swing is something that other Indian batsmen don't do and need to learn. So, it becomes comes very important for Dhoni to be given time at that position since the World Cup is just one more year away.
The Indian think-tank just can't blindly ignore Dhoni’s performances higher up the order anymore. No one would benefit if they keep trying one batsman after another to solve their No. 4 conundrum. It's time they should open their eyes and ask Dhoni to solve the Conundrum that has been troubling India in recent times.