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.