Mahendra Singh Dhoni's ideal batting position
With the 2019 World Cup a little over eighteen months away, India are still tinkering with their middle order options as they seek to build the perfect squad to see an encore of 2011. The first three players effectively choose themselves, with Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and skipper Virat Kohli in fine form, but the No 4 position remains a bit of a bugbear.
The likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav have all been tried at that position with varying levels of success, but no one has quite managed to put his hand up and claim it as his own.
Mumbai Indians star Hardik Pandya was given a go at number 4 in the third and fourth ODIs against Australia, and did reasonably well by scoring 78 of 72 balls in Indore and a 40 ball 41 in Bangalore, thereby guiding India to wins in both fixtures.
The constant shuffling in the batting order means M.S Dhoni comes at No 7, where he doesn’t get time to play himself in and thereby has to get going from ball one. Dhoni’s big hitting abilities aren’t quite the same as they were in his younger days, but he still remains a more than capable accumulator and one of the fastest between the wickets in this Indian team.
Coming down the order neither helps him nor India, with fans expecting him to replicate the razzle-dazzle of his youth- and at 36, he’s not the long haired youngster who could launch the ball over the fence at will.
Dhoni’s best position to bat is when he comes higher up at either 4 or 5. The ideal position for him will be No 4, where he gets some time to get his eye, can guide the team and also have a crack at the end.
His innings in the first ODI against Australia was a very good example of this- he came into bat at no. 4 and his 79 took India from a precarious 87/5 to a total of 281 which proved to be a match winning one.
Another more recent example is the 45 against Sri Lanka in the 2nd ODI in Kandy- when the likes of Axar and Hardik failed, the cool head of Dhoni stitched an unbeaten partnership of 100 runs for the 8th wicket with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and thereby guided Team India to a victory.
Given how good India have been at the top in recent years with Dhawan, Sharma and Kohli scoring runs for run, Nos 6/7 invariably come in after the 40th over, which isn’t quite Dhoni’s forte these days.
Statistics also appear to prove that MSD is more than just merely competent when sent up the order. He has played 120 innings, and scored 3866 runs at an average of 46.58 at No 6. At 7, he averages 48.72 which is pretty much similar, with 877 innings in 31 games. His batting average statistics look better even further up the order- His average at No. 3 is 82.75 whereas at No 4 and 5, they are 58.23 and 53.29- the last two from a cumulative sample of nearly 100 games.
As mentioned before, the top three pick themselves, and the No 4 position is up for grabs. It makes sense for Kohli and Shastri to think about it sooner than later and try Dhoni at No 4 with the World Cup not far away. Pandey has done well at No 5. Given that Jadhav’s ability to bowl cements his spot in the side, No.6 seems ideal for him given his skill set.
The better move therefore, would be to allow Dhoni to bat at No 4 or 5 with Pandey and Jadhav to follow, and Hardik available at 7 to lend the finishing touches. Pandya has proven beyond doubt that he is the x-factor player in the Indian ranks. Therefore, it would make sense for the management and coach to send him in the slog overs where he can go berserk. He could very well emulate Proteas star Lance Klusener’s 1999 World Cup performances.
Somebody, though, needs to be picked and backed at 4- there’s not too much time left for experimentation.
As Dhoni is definitely going to the World Cup next year, it makes sense for the team management to try him at No 4 - a position which appears ideally suited to his current batting style, and allows the team to get the most out of him.
The move could be a masterstroke that allows a great servant of Indian cricket to have one final swan song and sees the World Cup trophy possibly come back to our shores.