In a surprise move, MS Dhoni stepped down as India’s limited-overs captain today, which marks the end of his glorious leadership career. This has certainly paved a way for Test captain Virat Kohli to take over the captaincy ahead of the ODI and T20I series against England in January.
According to the BCCI, MS Dhoni will still be available for selection as a wicket-keeper-batsmen for the series. So on that note, here’s taking a look at how he has been cricket’s most consistent player ever.
About an hour after playing the World Cup-winning knock in 2011, there’s a story that has Dhoni sitting quietly in the dressing room, when someone asked him what that precise moment was when he knew India would win the World Cup. Dhoni shook his head and said that he never expected India to win it. When asked why, Dhoni went back to an interview of Tendulkar’s about two weeks before the World Cup began. Tendulkar had claimed that not winning the World Cup was the only regret he had in his career. Dhoni’s reasoning was that since no human being gets everything, Tendulkar’s wish would not be fulfilled this time either.
Apocryphal or not (it does come from a reliable source), this anecdote has Mahendra Singh Dhoni written all over it. That propensity to not get stuck in the details of the moment, but to go way beyond to the big picture is a very rare quality, especially in sportspeople. Dhoni wouldn’t perhaps believe he has achieved everything there is the game, but the evidence, examined from a (top-down) distance, does suggest he has. He has also done a lot he is not appreciated for.
His tangible captaincy accomplishments are commonly known – two world titles in 50- over cricket, one world title in the Twenty20 format besides IPL and Champions League titles too (two apiece). And, more than a few forget that when India held the number one position in the Test ICC Rankings for a short while, Dhoni was the captain. All the while, he was keeping wickets (a specialised and demanding physical role), captaining the side (mentally draining, in a country where the sport means so much) and being a key batsman who was often expected to deliver the most under pressure, consistently — which he did, for the most part.
Besides all this, from his repertoire of predominantly bottom-hand batting, Dhoni even introduced the cricket world to a new kind of shot — the ‘helicopter shot’ — which accomplishes something considered impossible till barely a decade ago — hitting a proper yorker for six. If this is not everything, what is?
Why does he then get such a big black mark for being a strangely passive and unimaginative Test captain 2011-onwards? Why is he expected to be superhuman? Why is he considered a mediocre Test player, without accounting for his wicketkeeping role? We counter all this here. The fact is, Dhoni is a giant in Indian cricket in all three formats. Internationally, he is a giant in the ODI format — that’s the bird’s-eye-view. So, let’s dwell more on the ODI format first and determine his true place in that.
India’s Highest Impact ODI Player
MS Dhoni is the highest impact ODI player India has produced (minimum 60 matches). Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar follow him from a distance, where Ravindra Jadeja and Irfan Pathan also roughly dwell. It should not be surprising that the best all-rounders are the highest impact players in ODI cricket, because their dual skills help them contribute more consistently in matches. Dhoni contributes in three ways – as wicketkeeper, captain and significant middle-order batsman.
Purely as a batsman, Dhoni is India’s third-highest impact player, after Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli. The latter two batted in the top four most of the time in ODI cricket; Dhoni batted mostly at no. 6 or 7, from where he had far less opportunity to have a say consistently. The next highest impact batsman in this position is the 19th highest impact Indian batsman — Ajay Jadeja. Dhoni is higher impact as an ODI batsmen than the likes of Azharuddin, Ganguly, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Dravid, Sehwag, Vengsarkar and Gavaskar, a few of whom also bowled a bit, but were mostly specialist batsmen. Interestingly, seven batsmen absorbed more pressure (of falling wickets) than Dhoni across eras — Kohli, Dravid, Azharuddin, Amarnath, Yuvraj, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammad Kaif. And seven batsmen have been higher impact chasers than him — Kohli, Gambhir, Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Gavaskar, Navjot Sidhu and Azharuddin. Dhoni’s batting failure rate of 39 per cent makes him India’s most consistent batsman.
All of this is simply remarkable for someone who comes in to bat at the position he does — no. 6 and 7, even though some of his most famous innings have come higher up the order. Here’s one.
Vs Pakistan, 2005. In just the fifth ODI of his career, Dhoni came out to bat at No. 3 with the score at 26 for 1, with Tendulkar gone. First with Sehwag (74 off 40), then with Dravid (52 off 59), he took the Pakistan bowling apart with shots primarily in the V. He was in the sort of zone where he did not even feel the need to lie down, as every other player did when a swarm of bees invaded the ground. It was tiredness that ended his innings at 148 (with India at 281 for 4), 15 fours and 4 sixes adorning it. India won that match, one of the only two it would win in a series where Pakistan triumphed 4-2.
Dhoni also has 8 series/ tournament-defining performances (SDs) in his career, in 275 ODIs. Only Tendulkar (12) and Yuvraj Singh (9) have more than him, in 463 and 293 ODIs respectively. As a wicketkeeper, Dhoni is India’s highest impact, with Mongia and More after him. And finally, Dhoni is the highest impact Indian captain by a distance, followed by Azharuddin, Ganguly and Kapil Dev. Let us talk about his overall consistency in an even broader context.
Dhoni is India’s highest impact ODI player ever
A Giant On The World Stage
Dhoni is the ninth-highest impact player in ODI history (minimum 60 matches), after Viv Richards, Adam Gilchrist, Imran Khan, Andrew Flintoff, Dennis Lillee, Shane Watson, Greg Chappell and Wasim Akram. He’s got 8 series/ tournament-defining performances (SDs) in his career. In terms of SD tallies, eight players have more than him – Gilchrist (13), Tendulkar (12), Jayasuriya (12), Afridi (11), Akram (11), Ponting (9), Yuvraj (9) and Pollock (9).
Vs Sri Lanka, 2011. The World Cup Final. India, chasing 274, was 31 for 2 at one stage, with Tendulkar gone. Gambhir and Kohli had stabilised the innings somewhat, but when the latter departed at 114 for 3, instead of Yuvraj, many were surprised to see captain Dhoni walking out — perhaps to keep the right-left combination going with Gambhir, probably to neutralise Muralitharan. The rest is emphatic history — 91 not out off 79 balls, with a six over long-on to accomplish the biggest run chase in World Cup final history, and becoming the second India captain to win the World Cup (and an SD to go with it).
MS Dhoni has also had the highest impact as a wicketkeeper in ODI history. Most curiously, Dhoni has conceded the least byes in ODI history, in proportion to matches played. As a captain, only Clive Lloyd, Hansie Cronje and interestingly Alastair Cook have a higher impact than Dhoni in ODI history, followed closely by Allan Border and Imran Khan.
As a batsman, Dhoni is the 24th highest impact ODI batsman ever. Specialist batsmen like Aravinda de Silva, Javed Miandad, Brian Lara, Azharuddin and Kallis are below him on the impact list. But more significantly, onlytwo batsmen ahead of him have also been full-time wicketkeepers (so, that excludes AB de Villiers) — Adam Gilchrist and Kumar Sangakkara.
Amongst middle-order batsmen, especially those who batted at no. 6 or 7 for the most part of their careers, only Michael Bevan is higher impact than Dhoni.
Finally, the point we have left for now — his consistency . Thanks to contributing on three levels, Dhoni’s failure rate is a ridiculously low 9 per cent, the only one to not touch double digits. Gilchrist is at 12 per cent and the great all-rounders follow thereafter — Richard Hadlee, Shaun Pollock and Kapil Dev (Imran Khan was a little less consistent in this format).
Vs Pakistan, 2006. After losing the Test series in Pakistan, this 5-match ODI series had great significance for India, which was at 1-1 when they landed at Lahore. Chasing Pakistan’s formidable 288, India were 12 for 2 at one stage, but recovered thanks to Tendulkar and Yuvraj. But two quick wickets around the 35th over had India at 190 for 5 when Dhoni walked out. With 99 required in 92 balls, the stage was set for a one-of-a-kind genius. Dhoni hammered 72 off 46 balls, with 13 fours and no six, some one-handed off-side shots still memorable, as India won by 5 wickets and went 2-1 up.
The series was won in the next match, where RP Singh and Irfan Pathan led the way with the ball, leaving very little for the batsmen to do.
In the last match at Karachi, with Pakistan desperate to bring some parity back, India chased 286. Gambhir and Dravid set a solid foundation, as Dhoni joined Yuvraj at 141 for 2 in the 31st over. The halfway stage on paper and spirit, but made a mockery of by Yuvraj in the form of his life, and Dhoni, more mentally balanced than any new player in World cricket. After stealing a few singles and playing out a few tight overs, they gradually speeded up. As the Pakistani bowlers (including Md Sami and Md Asif) began to visibly crack, Dhoni teed off – he made his last 50 runs in 27 balls, and India finished off the match in the 47th over, thus winning the series 4-1.
Dhoni In Tests
Dhoni’s consistency curiously gets even more magnified in the longer format. Despite a relatively lower impact overall here (compared to ODIs), Dhoni still comes up with the lowest failure rate in Test history — a jaw-dropping 6 per cent. He is followed by Adam Gilchrist, Joel Garner, Kamran Akmal, Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn.
In the history of Test cricket, amongst full-time wicketkeepers or those who kept for the majority of their careers (thus excluding Kumar Sangakkara, AB De Villiers, Alec Stewart, Brendon McCullum etc), MS Dhoni is the sixth-highest impact batsman, after Adam Gilchrist, Andy Flower, Alan Knott, Kamran Akmal and Matt Prior (minimum 50 Tests). This means that in 138 years of Test cricket, only five wicketkeepers have batted more decisively than him in Tests.
As a Test batsman, Dhoni is India’s 16h highest impact batsman (minimum 40 Tests). Specialist batsmen (or nearly) like Mohinder Amarnath, Chandu Borde, Vijay Manjrekar, Pankaj Roy, Yuvraj Singh and Anshuman Gaekwad were lower impact than Dhoni with the bat. His batting failure rate of 59 per cent queers his pitch, but not as an allrounder (or a wicketkeeper). Kapil Dev has a 65 per cent batting failure rate, Ravi Shastri 59 per cent and Vinoo Mankad a massive 77 per cent. Amongst wicketkeepers, Syed Kirmani had a 72 per cent failure rate, Nayan Mongia 74 per cent and Kiran More 73 per cent; only Farokh Engineer, with a magnificent 39 per cent, was better, but he used to open the innings – a very significant fact in this context. Thus by no means can Dhoni be considered a mediocre Test player, even if he is a far superior ODI player.
Vs Sri Lanka, 2013. Fresh from the Champions Trophy win in England, Dhoni’s team had reached the tri-series final in West Indies. On a bowling pitch with uneven bounce, Sri Lanka made 201, anchored by Sangakkara’s well-confirmed greatness, which produced 71. In reply, India were 152 for 7, Dhoni watching from the other end, not quite helplessly though. He was not fully fit and refused quick singles, watchfully waiting. After 16 balls, his score was 4. Soon it was 167 for 8 and Dhoni began to refuse even easy singles and take charge himself. At 182 for 9, a jittery Ishant Sharma joined him, and was chided by Dhoni more than once for nervously taking off for a run.
Soon it was 17 required off 9 balls. Dhoni calmed Ishant down, asked him to just survive. Two runs came off the next two balls and Ishant let the last ball of the 49th over go through. Dhoni signalled to the dressing room for a heavier bat, as Eranga got ready to bowl the last over, with figures of 2-34 from his nine overs so far. Dhoni missed the first ball. The next one went for a massive six, and the Sri Lankan body language on the field changed. Still 9 required off 4 balls. The next ball was sliced over point for four. 5 runs off 3 balls would normally still be worth fighting for, but Eranga’s nervousness suggested no such thing. It was amply confirmed by the next delivery, a somewhat resigned length ball, which Dhoni hit over extra cover for six.
Dhoni’s thought-out method, to take the match to the last over, relying on the bowler’s nervousness as much as his own ability, paid dividends throughout his career, considerably more than logic would ordinarily suggest. This quality manifested the most in T20s.
Dhoni In T20s
Dhoni’s sample size in T20 Internationals is not much, but given his three roles, once again he comes up as the most consistent player in the world, with a failure rate of just 11 per cent.
However, contrary to popular assumption, he is not as much of a giant in T20s as he is in ODIs. He is India’s fourth-highest impact T20I player (minimum 20 matches), after Irfan Pathan, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh. As a batsman, he is India’s sixth-highest impact batsman, after Kohli, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Raina and Rohit Sharma. This is not surprising, given the limited opportunity he gets in his batting position in a 20 over match, but it is curious that his Strike Rate Impact and Chasing Impact are also relatively low. His eye-catching performances (especially when he finishes a match) here and there give a wrong impression overall; he does not quite do it as often, or more pertinently perhaps, does not need to.
As captain of Chennai Super Kings, who have won two IPL titles and two Champions League titles, he has led the most successful franchise in T20 history. In IPL history, he is the ninth-highest impact player, after Shane Watson, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist, Suresh Raina, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh, Michael Hussey and Robin Uthappa.
A Superhuman Work Load
No proper analysis on Dhoni can ignore the workload on him. He is the most active cricketer in the history of the sport, and the most overworked. Crouching down 540 times on a full Test match day, 300 times in an ODI and 120 times in a T20 match, and concentrating on every ball – this is the most underrated aspect about him. (Impact Index accounts for a wicketkeeper’s job by giving a flat value to the role he does, adjusting it for increased probability of taking catches). It is very wrong to judge him as a player by not putting this squarely in front first, and this kind of workload boggles the mind.
The above only accounts for physical energy. There is also the mental energy that comes with being captain in all three formats of the game, in the most hysterical cricket nation on earth, and being an important batsman who is expected to rescue the team from tough situations, especially in the limited overs formats. All this led to a situation where Dhoni didn’t last even a decade in Test cricket, despite being just 34. Or, to look at it another way, he lasted nine whole years playing all these key roles, with considerable success overall, with the kind of consistency that has never been seen before or since. No cricketer in any format has ever justified his place in the team as often as he has. There is really no other way to say it — MS Dhoni is cricket’s most consistent player ever.
This story first appeared on the Impact Index website. It has been reprinted with permission.