Will he or will he not?
After Team India’s heartbreaking exit from the World Cup campaign, a million dollar question that is haunting fans is, will Mahendra Singh Dhoni continue his journey or hang up his gloves.
Well, the answer to this question lies with Thala (his South Indian fans call him fondly by this name) himself, but social media is flooded with a lot of emotional appeals and and some misleading posts. It was being speculated that Dhoni might announce his retirement at the end of the World Cup. But as of now, there is no evidence that Dhoni has made up her mind about this. On Dhoni’s official Twitter, Facebook and Instagram handles, there is no such mention of him calling it quits yet. Indian captain Virat Kohli has also clarified that the veteran has not told him anything about his future plans. Considering the fact that Dhoni is already 38, many people think that probably it was Dhoni’s last World Cup knock, but his fans don’t want him to leave. Soon after Team India’s dream of another cup crushed, #donotretiredhoni started trending on Twitter.
Even the Nightingale of Bollywood Lata Mangeshkar urged Dhoni not to retire as Team India needs him and his game. Emotions are running high in the country but Dhoni himself has to do some introspection before finalizing his decision.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni at 38, is on the last legs of his international career. All the ardent fans of Indian cricket wanted to see him finish his career on a high, after the 2019 World Cup in England. It is an undeniable fact that Dhoni behind the stumps is magnetic. His on-field advice is very precious to the Indian team. A few commentators have even started calling the DRS as Dhoni Review System because when he calls for it, then in all probability India gets a wicket or a reprieve. While Kohli has a penchant for using DRS on any appeal, it is the calmness of Dhoni which brings sense into taking the call. But, is that enough from the great Dhoni?
The real problem lies in, where has Dhoni, the batsman gone? That batsman who came into the Indian side in 2004 and cemented his place due to his aggressive and dependable batting performances.
While we all agree on one thing, no one wants Dhoni to retire, but for that, there are some real chunks he should address or else retiring is the only path available. The role of Dhoni over the years has been to finish the innings, which he was doing with ease in the past decade or so. But since the 2015 World Cup, there seems to be a chunk in his armor while finishing the innings. We do not see the Dhoni of the same old times anymore, who would take the game late into the innings and lead the Indian side to memorable wins.
Earlier in the Asia Cup, he was guilty of getting out constantly when India needed him to stay at the crease. It was either Ravindra Jadeja or Kedar Jadhav who stood till the very end when the Indian team was in dire circumstances. In the recently concluded World Cup too, he was slow at the crease, even in the match against Afghanistan. How can Dhoni, easily our most experienced player, falter when the team needs him the most?
Dhoni of the earlier era could come to the crease and start hammering the ball from the word go, but with age, he has started using up extra balls to get settled. At times, this is hurting India, by the time Dhoni gets to the groove it becomes a tad too late.
In 2018, from 15 matches, his strike rate was a paltry 67.21. At a time when T20 is ruling cricket, the dwindling strike rate of Dhoni is not helping the team’s cause.
Although we did see some blistering innings from him in IPL 2018 for CSK, the same has not transformed to the international cricket from him. His supporters have long enough waited for that Dhoni, who scored his highest score of 183 against Sri Lanka, or the 148 he scored against Pakistan coming out at number 3 and belting them all across the ground. Overall, in this world cup group stage, MS Dhoni scored 34 runs off 46 balls, 27 off 14, 1 off 2, 28 runs off 52 balls, 56 runs off 61 balls, 42 runs off 31 balls and finally 35 runs off 33 balls. His only saving the face from disgrace innings came in the semi-final against New Zealand, where he kept his calm composure and took India from 71/5 to 216 runs, very close to the chase target. Though Dhoni’s unfortunate runout in the second last over was the biggest turning point of the match, if Dhoni had gotten out early, India would have been facing a much bigger defeat.
Dhoni was born in Ranchi, Jharkhand. He studied at DAV Jawahar Vidya Mandir, Ranchi, Jharkhand where he initially performed well in badminton and football and was selected at district and club level. Dhoni was a goalkeeper for his football team and was sent to play cricket for a local cricket club by his football coach. Though he had not played cricket, Dhoni impressed with his wicket-keeping skills and became the regular wicketkeeper at the Commando cricket club (1995–1998). Based on his performance at club cricket, he was picked for the 1997/98 season Vinoo Mankad Trophy Under-16 Championship and he performed well. In 1998, Dhoni was selected by Deval Sahay to play for the Central Coal Fields Limited (CCL) team. Till 1998 Dhoni, who was in class 12th in school, had played only school cricket and club cricket and no professional cricket. One of the famous episodes, when Dhoni used to play for CCL, was when Deval Sahay used to gift him Rs 50 for each six that he hit in Sheesh Mahal tournament cricket matches.
Bihar cricket team
Dhoni made his Ranji Trophy debut for Bihar in the 1999–2000 seasons, as an 18 year old. He made a half century in his debut match scoring 68* in the second innings against Assam cricket team. Dhoni finished the season with 283 runs in 5 matches. Dhoni scored his maiden first-class century while playing for Bihar against Bengal in the 2000/01 season, in a losing cause. Apart from this century, his performance in the 2000/01 season did not include another score over fifty and in the 2001/02 season, he scored just five fifties in four Ranji matches.
Jharkhand cricket team
Dhoni’s performance in the 2002–2003 season included three half-centuries in the Ranji Trophy and a couple of half-centuries in the Deodhar Trophy, as he started gaining recognition for his lower-order contribution as well as hard-hitting batting style. In the 2003/04 season, Dhoni scored a century (128*) against Assam in the first match of the Ranji ODI tournament. Dhoni was part of the East Zone squad that won the Deodhar Trophy 2003–2004 season and contributed with 244 runs in 4 matches, including a century (114) against Central zone.
In the Duleep Trophy finals, Dhoni was picked over international cricketer Deep Dasgupta to represent East Zone. He scored a fighting half-century in the second innings in a losing cause. Dhoni’s talent was discovered via the BCCI’s small-town talent-spotting initiative TRDW. Dhoni was discovered by TRDO Prakash Poddar, captain of Bengal in the 1960s, when he saw Dhoni play for Jharkhand at a match in Jamshedpurin 2003, and sent a report to the National Cricket Academy.
India A team
He was recognised for his efforts in the 2003/04 season, especially in the One Day format and was picked for the India A squad for a tour of Zimbabwe and Kenya. Against the Zimbabwe XI in Harare Sports Club, Dhoni had his best wicket-keeping effort with 7 catches and 4 stumpings in the match. In the tri-nation tournament involving Kenya, India A and Pakistan A, Dhoni helped India A chase down their target of 223 against Pakistan A with a half-century. Continuing his good performance, he scored back to back centuries – 120 and 119 – against the same team. Dhoni scored 362 runs in 6 innings at an average of 72.40 and his performance in the series received attention from the then Indian captain – Sourav Ganguly and Ravi Shastri, amongst others.
However, In this World Cup, he has been unable to rotate the strike, looked daft in front of spinners, failed to dominate bowlers and has shown an inclination for hitting, for some reason, only in the last over. The man who once propelled helicopters with his arms has now become a rather pedestrian accumulator of dot balls and doubts. In the World Cup, Dhoni comes up with surprisingly good stats: 223 runs (fourth for India behind Sharma, Kohli and Rahul) at 44.60 and a strike rate of 93. At face value, these are impressive figures. But data without context can be misleading—Dhoni’s batting against England was unedifying, although the measured approach against Bangladesh was prudent; it took the score past 300 and the plucky Bangladeshis were kept at bay.
As Ayaz Memon writes in hindustan times “Dhoni’s struggle for rhythm and top form, however, has been palpable. From the “multi-taskers”, Shakib has been in a zone of his own. Stokes has played with panache, Neesham has been a revelation, Pandya’s ebullience has made a great impact. Even among wicket-keeper-batsmen, Alex Carey’s flair and temerity with the bat and assured glovework has left Dhoni with some catching up to do.”
Advancing years have obviously hampered some of his prowess. In this tournament, age has been unkind to quite a few stars. Match-winners Chris Gayle and Hashim Amla, for instance, have looked pale shadows of themselves. If one looks at the history of world cups, it becomes clear that the senior players are always at loss in the big ticket tournament. Wasim Akram, who bowled sensationally in the 1992 final, was half the bowler in 2003. Javed Miandad, whose perky batting made him arguably the most dangerous opponent in his pomp, huffed and puffed his way as a 39-year-old in the 1996 World Cup. But then there was also a 39-year-old Imran Khan, whose solid batting and inspiring presence led Pakistan to a win in 1992, and a 38-year-old Sachin Tendulkar, who was close to his best touch in 2011.
The Indian middle order conundrum has been going on for quite some time now. India has tried a lot of players above and below Dhoni in the batting order. The only one who seems to have cemented his place is Kedar Jadhav, that too, more for his bowling prowess than his batting. Therefore, the role of Dhoni in the middle order is more important. He should have been their rock to guide them, to cement their place, but Dhoni himself is faltering too many a times to support these players. Considering 2018 again, in 15 matches that year, he averaged a lowly 28.13. He has not been able to score a half-century that year with 42* being his highest score. While in 2017, he did average 60 and in 2016, his average was 27.80.
There have been times when this man has been effective with the take-the-game-into-the-last-over approach culminating into a big shot – pulling off some near-impossible chases as a result. But the aura around MSD as a mythical finisher seems to have slowly but gradually disappeared now. After India’s dismal show in the 2015 World Cup semi-final against Australia, former spin wizard Shane Warne teased a rushing media contingent on the way to the press conference, “What was your captain doing there, ask him that,” referring to Dhoni’s run-a-ball 65 during India’s 95-run defeat.
And the figures seem to raise even direr questions. A comparative study between June 2014 and June 2016 indicated that there were 12 batsmen with a better average than MS Dhoni during this period, batting at number 5 or 6. This includes players from as many as eight nations (minimum of 10 innings). Even when it comes to the striking rate, no less than 13 players were better than MS at these positions, laying claim to the fact that neither is Dhoni performing consistently nor is he playing at a ferocious pace. In addition, as many as six players (from five different nations) had both a better strikerate as well as a better average as compared to the former Railway employee.
Moreover, as many as 10 players (including Irish batsman Gary Wilson) had a better average than MS Dhoni (S/R 35) batting at No 5 and 6 away from home (minimum of 10 matches). Similarly, a total of eight batsmen in the world had a better strike rate and average combined as compared to MS Dhoni overseas over these two years. Numbers also indicate that Dhoni’s dot-ball percentage in the middle-overs has drastically escalated up to around 60 per cent in the past couple of years while he’s also taking lesser number of singles than he once would.
It’s not about intensity or ambition, which undoubtedly Dhoni still has, or indeed cricketing acumen, which is unquestionable. MS Dhoni has all the right to take the decision to retire when he feels is right. It was under MS Dhoni’s captaincy that India became the top test side, won the 2007 T20 World and finally the historic ODI Cricket World Cup in 2011. Current India captain, Virat Kohli has always had praise for the former skipper and he has often been seen asking for Dhoni’s inputs in
key decisions. The issue really is whether he can bounce back and get into his former self and take up situational challenges in a match and perform at his best.
By Nilabh Krishna