Is MS Dhoni's playing style hurting India's chances ahead of the 2019 World Cup?
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been the point of talk among the cricket fraternity after the recently concluded India versus England ODI series, for all the wrong reasons. If middle-order and finding a batsman at number four wasn't a big problem in itself, Dhoni's slow knocks are giving the Indian fans and those in BCCI offices a hard time. He hasn't been short of criticism either, having been reportedly booed by a section of Indian fans for batting slow on the very day he completed 10,000 runs in ODI cricket.
"Dhoni is playing a lot of dot balls, putting a lot of pressure on other batsmen. He needs to be more pro-active. Apart from [Adil] Rashid and Moeen [Ali's] good bowling, a lot has to [improve] because of MS's batting. I haven't seen him bat like this for a couple of years. This is something he needs to work on, more pro-active against spin and clearly, he hasn't been at his best."
"Normally, MS Dhoni is someone who takes his time, but he makes up for it - that has been missing in the last two games. If MS stayed until the 50th over, India could've easily scored over 270 or 280. If you're taking time, you have to make sure you're staying until the end." - Gautam Gambhir's comments to Cricbuzz following India's defeat.
If we look at his stats in ODIs over the past few years, the picture gets clearer - it's not a rough pitch, instead his batting is actually declining. Dhoni has scored 10,046 runs in 321 matches with an average of 51.26 and strike rate of 88 in his ODI career. This is quite an achievement for a player who has batted in the lower middle order throughout his career.
But the scene turns grey when you look towards his stats for this year. He has played 6 innings, scoring 148 at an average of 37. It's not bad for a finisher batsman, but what ruins this is the column of strike rate which stands at 70, against a career strike rate of 88.
The position at which Dhoni bats, he is expected to go big from the very beginning in a role that he has played very well during his entire career. It has been clear over the past few years that Dhoni has lost the ability to go big from the first ball, as he takes his time to settle in the middle and thus keeps the fireworks for later.
It's a very characteristic thing which we saw during the IPL 2018 too. However, he has failed to replicate his game over the past few international matches - which is disappointing for a player of his ability.
Why do India need Dhoni more than ever?
The World Cup is less than a year away now. MS Dhoni is a master of ICC tournaments, having won the ODI World Cup, T20 World Cup and the Champions trophy. Simply put, there's no substitute for his level of experience.
He is lightning fast behind the stumps and there's no better wicket-keeper in world cricket at this moment. He is a street-smart cricketer, there's a reason DRS is called as Dhoni Review System jokingly, he's that good at it.
Ultimately, he's the best finisher on his day. He has taken India home on more occasions than anyone and at present, there's no-one that is better suited to fill his shoes.
The solution that will suit India and MSD
MS Dhoni should bat at number 4. A number 4 batsman is expected to steer the innings, keep the board ticking and go big towards the end. These qualities rhyme perfectly with Dhoni, who will have the time to settle and make up for it later on.
The best thing about this arrangement is that he won't be replacing a better batsman at that position, as India have no better options. Cricket fans will have to wait patiently and see whether this happens and if it does, how well will it go?