Is it time for MS Dhoni to step up the batting order?
Just like that rainbow, or that shooting star, there are few things that always leave you wanting more. MS Dhoni’s innings higher up the Indian batting order is one of those things. Every time he steps up to bat, there’s a sense of calm, a sense of assuredness and a sense of thrill. Over a decade in ODI cricket and MS still has so much to offer.
Maybe now is the time. No wonder the most pivotal moment in his cricketing career was when he decided to come ahead of Yuvraj Singh in the 2011 World Cup Final.
For long, analysts have scratched their heads, commentators have guessed, and fans have hoped. But, every time, MS has had a different plan. In Chennai, against Pakistan in 2012 on an overcast morning, India were asked to bat first. The young and then impressive Junaid Khan ran through the Indian batting line-up like a warm knife through a dollop of butter. Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, and Yuvraj Singh all dismissed while the scoreboard showed 20 for 4.
All of M.A. Chidambaram wanted their ‘thala’ to walk out. It was a tailor-made MSD stage.
The storm had struck, the moors were upheaved and the ship was dwindling on rough tides. It all depended on the captain. Guess what, he chose to hold himself back and send Suresh Raina instead. It was only after the ship was hit with harder tides, at 29-5 when Rohit Sharma got out that Dhoni decided to come in. MS did eventually score one of his grittiest ODI centuries, but sadly that wasn’t enough and Pakistan chased the target comfortably with 6 wickets in hand.
If this appals you, wait for a stat which says that MS has the highest average batting at no.4 amongst all batsmen who have scored at least 1000 ODI runs. He averages an extremely healthy 60.61 batting at no.4 from 23 innings.
At no.5 MS averages a healthy 53.80 from 61 innings. The numbers only improve as you move up the batting order. Some of Dhoni’s best performances in his career came when he batted at no.3. When batting up the order MS averages a little under 78!
With Dhoni in the twilight of his career (little do we know), it is maybe time for him to move up the order. The ODI squad’s selection for the ODIs against New Zealand lends all the more impetus to the proposition that MS must promote himself up the order. There are a number of new names in the squad including Mandeep Singh, Manish Pandey, and Hardik Pandya.
MS batting in the middle order instead of his usual no.6-no.7 positions will ensure that the other youngsters can then play around him. And, while his beard might be greying quicker than most at his age, his ability to hit the cricket ball is as good as ever and his ability to run between the wickets can leave any youngster red-faced.
The final game of the series at the SCG against Australia earlier this year saw Manish come of age and score an excellent maiden ODI century in a crunch run-chase. What was heartening to see was how Dhoni who was at the other end for a majority of Pandey’s innings guided him through. From those prompt calls for converting singles into doubles to those conversations between overs.
Pandey wasn’t just getting runs under his belt, but some invaluable learnings from a man who has been-there-done-that for a good part of the decade gone by. When MS lofted one to long-off he was quick to ask Pandey to cross over so that he could take strike for the next ball. Of a lot of things that Pandey must have learnt from that innings, he will always remember that you must never expose an incoming batsman to a bowler on a rampage in a crunch run-chase. You don’t learn this at any academy.
I remember watching a motley group of kindergarten kids perform an extremely well-rehearsed dance performance once. I was astounded at the synchronisation that such young kids displayed on stage and wanted to know how the choreographer trained the kids. The choreographer, a middle-aged lady told me that after all their training, at the time of stage rehearsals she would stand in front of the stage and just give the kids a cue to the next step as soon as they were done with the last one.
The kids would pick up the cue and continue dancing. On the night of the finale, with all the lights and buzz around, the choreographer stood right where she did during the rehearsals, this time, just smiling at her kids. They were doing everything perfectly.
Come Dharamsala, MSD can be that choreographer for the incoming youngsters. He has been that to an entire generation of youngsters, he must step up and be that to another generation of batsmen by batting with them and not after.