Is MS Dhoni still a great finisher or merely a very enthusiastic witness of finishes?

MS Dhoni (CC licensed by Marc via Flickr)

Our primary school sports day used to climax with a run right the way round the field. For 10 and 11-year-olds it was quite a long way.

The top two years took part. On our first attempt, we performed solidly and passed a very large number of kids with a sprint finish on the home straight.

A year older and a year stronger, we decided to employ the same tactics. This time we held even more in reserve – so much, in fact, that half the field had finished by the time we launched our finishing ‘kick’.

And so to MS Dhoni.

There are three main flavours of MS Dhoni innings these days. (1) The dawdling non-event where he faces a couple of overs and never gets going. (2) The dawdling non-event where he faces plenty of balls but still doesn’t get going. (3) The knock where he happens to be there at the end and India win but it’s still not wholly clear whether he was hugely influential or not.

Most of the time, it feels like we’re going to get (2) because more often than India would like, Dhoni is the man who won’t (or can’t) shift beyond third gear.

You need to make a slow and arduous journey in rush hour traffic, Dhoni’s your man – but for God’s sake don’t pull onto the motorway. As the engine roars and the vehicle’s speed hovers around 40mph, you implore him to change up. But he doesn’t. He just sits there in the nearside lane, foot to the floor, getting passed by everyone.

“Don’t worry,” says a fellow passenger. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s done this before.”

20 minutes later, you’re flicking through your phone trying to find the contact number for your breakdown cover. Meanwhile, Dhoni stands outside the car, head held high as he nobly and silently surveys the horizon.

On days like these, Dhoni is not a ‘finisher’ but an impediment; a dead man in a three-legged race.

But sometimes India win and sometimes when India win, MS Dhoni is batting when the winning runs are scored. It is tempting to conclude from this that he still ‘has it’ – but surely the mark of whether or not a batsman is positively influential is how he compares to the average player across a large number of matches.

According to CricViz, when Dhoni arrived at the crease against Australia in the second one-day international, India were slight favourites to win. And then they won. This, to us, sounds pretty average.

Dhoni made 55 off 54 balls. His two batting partners – Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik – made 76 off 58 balls. Victory came with four balls to spare.

Dhoni was unarguably there for the finish and you rather feel that he would also have been there for the finish had Kohli and Karthik been the ones contributing 55 off 54 balls.

That would have changed the demands of the situation greatly and there are two main things we cannot be certain of in that hypothetical scenario. They are: Dhoni’s score and the match result.



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20 Appeals

  1. Dhoni is like the babysitter who lets the kid enjoy themselves on their day out

  2. Couldn’t agree more. The Dhoniwagon’s chugging along on past glories at the moment, and ironically, is now beginning to resemble the Misbahmobile. It should be traded in for the newer, sleeker Pant model.

  3. Six months to the World Cup. Think India have it in them to drop Dhoni?

    • The highs are few and far between. Can India ditch MSD ?

    • I don’t think they do. Whatever happens in the NZ series, the home Aus series should get him in. The IPL could yet decide, but before that the newer, sleeker Pant model needs to have a spin. Either way, Dhoni is certainly no No. 5 anymore.

      • In fact, except for the world cup final, he never has been. Just that, surprisingly, no batsmen have made numbers 4 and 5 their own.

  4. Dhoni has been running on borrowed time for a while now, a bit like Alastair Cook towards the end of his career — he’s out there batting on reputation more than anything else.
    Agree that Pant needs to be in the side — whether to replace him is a different question, because I don’t back Pant to get the kind of quick stumpings that Dhoni is capable of still. Best option — replace Rayudu with Pant. Keep Dhoni purely for his keeping skills. Rely on the top order, Pant and maybe the likes of Shubman Gill (who really needs to be in this side) to get the runs and see India through.

    • Dhoni’s merit in the team is based on his calm, leadership and street smartness, more than his keeping skills – as valuable as they are. He directs the relatively young bowlers, makes the operational field changes when kohli’s on the boundary, and I’d bet on his massive calm skills in a potential world cup final /semi – final 30-ball 50 chase. To me, Rayudu is replaceable by Pant if Karthik can play at 4. Gill should be a star at 2023 WC, but then I’d thought KL Rahul would be a star at this one, so what do I know?!

      • I’d back Dhoni to keep calm whether it’s 50 off 30 or 70 off 30, but something tells me if it’s Dhoni and the lower order at the crease against England, 70 off 30 is impossible.
        I was actually thinking of replacing Karthik with Gill. I’m looking for players who can single-handedly win a match for India, and Karthik (notwithstanding his T20 exploits against Bangladesh who don’t know how to win crunch games) or Rayudu are not those players. I’m backing Pant and Gill over Karthik and Rayudu at this point.

      • Then Gill should’ve been brought in for the NZ games, without which he’s left with only 5 possible home games against Aus, which to me is nowhere near enough to merit a world cup place, even if he does feature in those at all (unlikely). He didn’t feature enough in the IPL either, while doing well. I personally like Karthik, he did well today, enough experience, has opened Tests in England, captains an IPL side well, knows his job. He’s a Jack – in – the – box, but I’ve seen good experience beat great skill way too often in knock out world cup games. Granted, I’ll take Gill over Rayudu, I’ll also take Pant over Rayudu at this point! And yet to me, Gill is still in competition with Iyer, Pandey, Shaw, Agarwal. He’s in his first real season! 2023, buddy! In summary, I think Karthik + Pant > Gill + Karthik > Gill +Pant > Karthik + Rayudu > Gill +Rayudu. My fear is they will end up with Rayudu + Pant.

      • Let me go even further and say that Rohit should be captain of the team and not Kohli.

    • The ODI team of course, for Tests there’s no obvious alternative. But yes, I’m all for Rohit as ODI team captain.

    • I once went for a ramble in Shubman Gill.

  5. All this thinking because, we’re going to have to set or chase 350 against bloody England to win the world cup!

  6. MSD has been a liability to the team for a couple of years now, it’s just that they have had the depth of cricketing talent to cover for his slow batting and overly defensive fielding tactics.

    They absolutely wont move him on though. Aside from the cult of personality thing don’t forget he’s been a long term employee of Srinivasan via India Cements and it’s various subsidiary holdings so he has political cover.

    Apparently he had no idea of the spot betting and match fixing going on at CSK suggesting he isn’t overly competent as a captain.

    • It’s weird how, when a scandal breaks, those in senior positions happily choose total incompetence in favour of looking guilty.

      You had no idea what was going on? Oh, well, that’s alright then.

  7. Dhoni is still a best finisher which he proved in the 2nd ODI against Australia. Droping Dhoni for World Cup 2019 is not possible as he is the fastest wicket keeper behind the stumps and know the tactics to tackle the situations also.

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