It has been talked about a lot already, is Dhoni’s power hitting on the decline? Has Dhoni done enough to be playing T20Is without his place being questioned. While victories don’t escalate that, losses, especially like the ones in the second T20I against New Zealand, make it harder for everyone. So why has Dhoni not got going in this format of the game? Here’s a look at his numbers over the years.
If you go by pure numbers, Dhoni averages 35.58 in T20Is but with a SR of just 123.41. On an average he gets to face 15 balls per innings, which if you go by his scoring pattern, are never going to be enough for him, unless he comes in with a platform set. 2016 was easily his best year in T20Is, with an average of 47.60 and a SR of 149.68. So what was happening then, that is not happening now?
Batting at No. 4, he scored 49 in 24 balls; at 5, 54 in just 28 balls, which when compared to his numbers at 6, 113 runs in 98 balls, tell you the picture. The SR goes down considerably for him when he comes lower down the order. With less balls to face, he struggles, it is almost documented so what is the reason for India to keep playing him down the order?
India has been a top heavy team for years now and it continues to be the pattern. Every time Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan come off well, India always find a way to manage their resources well but it is also a reason why they are struggling with the middle order. They have tried 11 players in ODIs at that position but the spot still seems jinxed. Yes, the position debate is out-dated as it is only about the roles and that is where India are messing around far too much. India are trying to find players who can do the role that Dhoni did for them years back but have been found wanting. KL Rahul didn’t look comfortable, Manish Pandey got a few starts and Kedar Jadhav has had far too many soft dismissals which saw him being out of the T20I squad. Shreyas Iyer was now tried and he got his chance in the second T20I.
Chasing 197, India lost their openers early and Shreyas Iyer got an opportunity to showcase his skills. He began with a flash, scoring 19 in 8 balls but when he got out, the score read 23(21). Iyer had played out 13 balls for 4 runs playing a boundary shot almost every ball. Twice in the game, India tried to experiment; giving the new guys a go but it backfired. (Earlier, Siraj bowling with the new ball didn’t set it up well and one wonders if Jasprit Bumrah opening the bowling would have done better?) Chasing a tall total if your top 4 wickets are scoring 30 in 47 balls, you are doomed. When Dhoni walked in the RR was already 11.81. With only Axar Patel to follow, the case was as good as done and would have needed a Virat Kohli masterclass. Kohli perished as the rate kept mounting, the hosts had left themselves too much to do even against a line-up which had a bowler short.
It is here where India need to decide what they need to do with MS Dhoni. Having grafted a conservative approach which has worked wonders in ODIs, it has always cost him and India a game here and there in this format of the game. Cue to the game against West Indies in Florida, with 2 needed in 1 ball, Dwayne Bravo having played a lot of cricket with Dhoni, was aware that Dhoni is not going to try and hit a boundary and will look for a safe shot which gets the job done. Well, it is a thin line between being brave and cautious. Bravo had closed out the leg side for Dhoni’s favorite dink-nudge and bowled a slower one wide outside off. Dhoni looked to guide it away but found the fielder.
Dhoni’s often talked about taking it deep to make it one on one but the bowlers are now stepping up to him and he is now having more off days. Spinners are bowling flat into his body, tucking him for any room with a mid-wicket in place which means he can’t just nudge and get away. The pacers are going short and into his body as well. While Dhoni has responded with a trigger movement, it is still not allowing him the breathing space as he not quite finding the gaps early in the innings. In the second T20I, India would have loved a higher SR start from him and therein lies the question, why would you now want Dhoni to do a role you know he is no longer good at?
The experiments in the middle order mean Dhoni gets shunned down at No. 6. The recent trend of batting Pandya over Dhoni will always look weirder when the RR is high. Contrary to the belief, Dhoni might actually pull off the role of an anchor better. When India lose early wickets, that of the top order alone, he can come in, hold an end up and let the guy at the other end do the scoring. It is what he has done since the Champions Trophy 2017. In Sri Lanka, West Indies, the promotions to Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav have not worked and hence it somehow boils down to him but in ODIs, you can still take your time not in T20Is. That Pandya can hit out spinners has been seen but twice in two games, he has been worked over and made to look pedestrian by Ish Sodhi. Dhoni has talked about being able to express freely and when batting higher up the order, he can actually do justice to it more. Adaptability is not a worry here, it is a question of having roles defined with chances of them coming off, far more greater than just backing names and reputations. Teams have found ways to kept Dhoni quiet and his batting role does not help his cause either. Can India not try out Rishabh Pant or Dinesh Karthik instead of MS in this format? It is a question which has an obvious answer but might difficult one to address. Dhoni’s not someone who will hang around without contributing but if India keep pushing him down the order, they risk losing more games than winning.