Analyzing Dhoni's batting woes: Is it waning of hitting skills or just a lack of confidence?
It all began with India’s T20 match against England at Birmingham in 2014. The men in blue were chasing a daunting target of 181, and the match came down to the wire. 16 runs were required in the last over, and MS Dhoni was on strike.
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An inexperienced Chris Woakes was given the duty to bowl to arguably the greatest finisher of the modern era. No big deal for Dhoni. He has done it so many times in life with unbelievable consistency.
First ball got whacked over midwicket for a six. The crowd erupted in ecstasy. Another last over, another Dhoni finish - that’s all the crowd fancied for.
Dhoni ran a double in the 2nd ball. 3rd ball, Dhoni denied a single to Ambati Rayudu who was at the non-striker’s end. Well, that’s what the Indian captain normally does in death overs. He takes the entire responsibility. He makes sure he faces most of the deliveries and backs himself to clear the ropes at the right time.
A four on the next delivery put the pressure back on the bowler. 5 runs needed from 2 now. Dhoni couldn’t time the next ball. He once again denied an easy single. Now only a 6 could take India to the shore.
Dhoni failed to find the fence off the last ball. England won the battle. It was one of the rarest of the rare occasions when India lost with Dhoni still at the crease.
Rayudu had nothing to say. He was denied the strike by his captain. A captain who was so confident of his abilities that he failed to put some faith in his batting partner, who was a proper batsman.
Critics slammed Dhoni for being over confident. Dhoni took the blame himself. He was totally disappointed. Because that’s not how usually the game plays out when Dhoni is there in the middle. It was an anti-climax.
However, since then, Dhoni has never denied a single to his batting partner if he is a proper batsman. Well, we can say he has learned from his mistake. But does that also mean that he has lost some confidence in his ability to find boundaries at will?
A terrible 2015
With match-winning knocks against West Indies and Zimbabwe in the World Cup 2015, Dhoni showed the World that he is still very much in the game. Shrewd captaincy moves and some spectacular bowling performances by the Indian pacers ensured a semi-final berth for the former World Champions in the World Cup.
When everything seemed hunky-dory, the semi-final match against Australia came as a blowback for the cruising Indians. When other batsmen surrendered before the Aussie pacers, Dhoni stood there firm with a run-a-ball 65.
But not firm enough. Dhoni’s innings didn’t seem to be a match-winning one at all. It appeared to be an innings crafted only to reduce the margin of loss. There were no lusty blows; all that Dhoni could produce was some cheeky singles here and there.
The IPL that followed made the worries of Indian captain more intense. He failed to push the run-rate up in the death overs. Dhoni himself started believing that he is no more the finisher he used to be. He expressed his desire to bat up the order.
Though Dhoni scored some decent amount of runs batting at number 4, in the Bangladesh series, the series loss made things awry for the most successful Indian skipper. Raina, Patel, Jadeja, Binny, Rayudu everyone got their chances lower down the order, but none proved to be effective in the high-pressure slot.
With Ajinkya Rahane’s inclusion at number 4, Dhoni hesitatingly went down the order again. The humiliating T20 series loss against the Proteas at home proved to be too much, mentally, for the 34-year-old.
In the first ODI against South Africa, we saw a highly uncharacteristic Dhoni innings. 35 runs were needed of the final 4 overs which came down to 11 from the last. Once again the master finisher capitulated, this time to another rookie, Kagiso Rabada.
Runs didn’t come easy for the Indian captain. He ran hard, as boundaries never came from his blade. Maybe for the first time ever in his career, he had to try a paddle scoop to hit a boundary. Yes, it was an innings of some desperation.
When everyone almost wrote him off, he came back with all his might in the 2nd ODI. With an 86 ball 92, he salvaged India from an early collapse which eventually turned out be a match-winning effort. That was an innings characteristic of the Dhoni of the yesteryears.
Yes, that innings was fraught with fierce pull shots, brutal heaves over long-on, and the typical grit associated with Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A player, who has lost his physical hitting skills due to age, can never play an innings like that. He is still capable, but less consistent. He is more human now.