Is "Captain Marvel" Dhoni also one of India's greatest batsmen?
“Indian team has the knack of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” This is how Sunil Gavaskar used to describe the team many a time from the commentary box.
True to his words, more often than not, the Indian team used to collapse miserably from a winning position. They had been found wanting when it came to delivering the decisive blow on the opposition. This had been the case for too long.
When the team was in desperate need of a finisher of the calibre of players like Michael Bevan, Arjuna Ranatunga, Javed Miandad, etc who were not known to succumb to any kind of pressure, especially while chasing targets, a man from Jharkhand with long locks made his entry.
From the time he captained his team to victory in the first ever T20 World cup, there was no looking back for M.S. Dhoni. He has been hailed as one of the best captains ever by many cricket pundits all over the world and has been widely regarded as the greatest skipper India has ever seen. It is hard to dismiss India’s World Cup win under his leadership as a mere coincidence.
Speaking of the World Cup win which came against Sri Lanka in 2011 in the 50 over format, no one can forget the way he anchored the innings, promoting himself in the order after his team lost Sehwag and Sachin in no time, coming after Kohli’s departure at number 5. Deservedly, he finished off the chase in style as he slogged a Nuwan Kulashekara delivery over long on for a six.
The “captain marvel” brought us back that memory a couple of days ago as he lifted Indian spirits from a hopeless situation when he lifted the Sri Lankan medium pacer Eranga for the maximum over the covers, grabbing another title for his country. Playing a masterclass innings with only Ishant Sharma left at the other end, he did what was expected of him by achieving the target with two balls to spare.
Quite often, MSD’s captaincy skills, which have brought so many glories for India tend to overshadow his batting abilities. But one thing is for sure – Dhoni’s reach to the masses cannot be attributed only to his captaincy. As a matter of fact, his success with the bat has made him more popular among the cricket fans who love seeing balls sailing over the ropes. But sadly, his prowess with the bat has been overlooked mostly, since many former cricket greats keep talking of his leadership skills.
His unorthodox batting is not for the purists. But even they are not able to stop writing panegyrics on his batting with which he has won so many matches for India, almost single-handedly. Probably they have also realised by now that getting a victory is more important than the way it has been achieved.
The current Indian captain first rose to prominence with an unbeaten 183 off just 145 balls in Jaipur against the visiting Sri Lankan team who had earlier put 299 runs on the board. He was just a wicket-keeper batsman back then. The fact that he was able to cling on to his position for another two years before becoming the captain in 2007 clearly gives us an idea as to how consistent he had been with the bat and the gloves.
He just turned 32 a few days before, but he already has more than 7000 runs in ODI cricket and close to 5000 runs in Tests. Being a lower middle order batsman, it has to be labeled as a great achievement. Those statistics clearly indicate that he is not only the best skipper India has ever seen, but he is also the best wicket-keeper batsman ever played for the country.
True, he is not as gifted as Tendulkar or Lara or as technically sound as Kallis or Dravid. Yet he has been able to amass so many runs for the team, especially when it matters the most. The beauty of Dhoni’s batting is not only that he gets runs by dispatching the bowlers all over the park, but he is also very much adept at playing a sheet anchor’s role to perfection by curbing his natural instincts. In this way, he has transformed himself into a complete batsman. His recent double hundred against Australia in Test cricket illustrates his adaptability in the longer version of the game too.
The effectiveness of a batsman should be measured by the runs that he scores at the hour of need (no matter how he accumulates them), and not on how he holds the bat or how well he plays the text-book shots.
The Indian skipper is just not a match-winner who finishes off the innings well, aided by the contribution from the great batsmen at the top of the order. Even if the top order fails, he is good enough to change his batting style and play a responsible innings by himself.
In this way, he differs from other great finishers of the game, past or present. Playing at the top, he can muster runs by just pushing the balls into the gaps and keep the scoreboard ticking all the time, and when it comes to slogging, he can devise some unorthodox “out of the book” shots like Helicopter shot and get the runs for his side.
So, can we undermine his batting ability by just tagging him as a slogger? A slogger is one who connects the ball, maybe, five out of ten times and finds the air otherwise. But when Dhoni goes for a slog, he is able to connect the ball nine out of 10 times. Likewise, he is also comfortable in surviving at the crease for very long just by playing defensive cricket, but again by ticking the scoreboard with singles and couples. Unless a person has a great technique, survival at the crease will not be possible.
He can score runs in every corner of the globe; he can play a defensive game; he can attack any type of bowling on any surface; he can finish off the innings in style; he can play a match-winning innings at will; he plays well in all forms of the game, and above all never succumbs to the captaincy pressure.
What other credentials should one require to be called as one of the greats in batting? So, when we talk of the greatest batsmen India has ever produced, let us add Dhoni alongside players like Tendulkar, Gavaskar, G.R.Vishwanath, Dravid and Ganguly.