It was back in 2004 when close followers of Indian first class cricket were forced to stand up and take note of a certain gentleman called Mahendra Singh Dhoni after two blazing hundreds for India A in a triangular 50-over tournament in Kenya.

The then 23-year-old justified our voices for his inclusion in the national team with ODI scores of 148 and the memorable 183 (against Pakistan) within a year of his debut; that too at mind-boggling strike rates for that time.

Cut to today, and the former Indian skipper, who turns 36 on Friday, is under immense scrutiny for the exact contrary nature of his playing style. He scored the second slowest ODI half-century by an Indian batsman earlier this week in the Caribbean, in India’s 11-run defeat. And it’s almost heartbreaking to see his game going from explosive to plain ugly.

There have been times when this ugly 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, be it the nothing innings in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan or his yawn-inducing show in the IPL final for the Rising Pune Supergiants.

Stats don’t lie

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 are 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) have both a better strike rate as well as a better average as compared to the former Railway employee.

Moreover, as many as 10 players (including Irish batsman Gary Wilson) have 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 have a better strike rate and average combined as compared to MS Dhoni overseas over these two years.

Not winning enough matches

Even the major ODI series since then have not been all-sunshine for the Jharkhand man, who has even modified his technique to bring back the lost firepower in his batting.

In the two opportunities at number five in the Champions Trophy, he managed a paltry 63 runs at an average of 33.50. And barring the 134 at Rajkot against England and the recent 78* against the West Indies, match-winning contributions have been far and few.

Numbers also indicate that Dhoni’s dot-ball percentage in the middle-overs has drastically escalated up to around 60 percent in the past couple of years while he’s also taking lesser number of singles than he once would.

And heading towards the 2019 World Cup, it could all turn quickly against MS.

Full circle

After India’s recent humbling at the hands of Pakistan at The Oval, Rahul Dravid had urged the selectors to take a call on the futures of some players including MS Dhoni with the tournament in mind. With the likes of Rishabh Pant knocking on the selectors’ doors, the writing could very well be on the wall.

Meanwhile if you’re an Indian cricket fan, you’d know a thing or two about unceremonious exits. And for the sake of all that he has done for the team and the country, Dhoni doesn’t deserve want to fall in line. It’s better that he hangs his boots at the opportune moment. Now!

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