For Dhoni, age is just a number
“When I die, the last thing I want to see is the six that Dhoni hit in the 2011 World Cup final” - the words of batting maestro Sunil Gavaskar echo the feelings of all Indian cricket fans. Mahendra Singh Dhoni entered the sport with obvious disadvantages: hailing from an obscure place with no cricketing history, he had a technique which had glaring shortcomings according to coaching manuals. But scaling dizzying heights from that point speaks volumes about his hard work and perseverance. Dhoni's much-scrutinised performances show that age is a just a number for great players who have exceptional mental strength.
Brilliant as a captain
Dhoni is the most prolific captain of all time, and his stats speak for themselves. He has every trophy under his belt, from the ICC T20 World Cup to the ICC Champions Trophy to the coveted ICC World Cup. He even led India to reach the pinnacle of the Test rankings for the first time in 2009. With his captaincy and finishing skills, he has rescued India from difficult situations on various occasions. Dhoni has never shied away from taking courageous decisions on the field. His pragmatism has led to his spectacular success, especially in limited overs matches.
People have begun to question Dhoni's ability to clear the ropes like he used to do in the early part of his career. However, his role is not only to hit big sixes, but also to help other players score freely and rotate the strike around him to build big scores. Over the last two years, Dhoni has actually performed better compared to his overall record.
The numbers tell the story
Since 2015, in winning matches, Dhoni has played with an average of 69.60 and a strike rate of 100.57. This shows his contribution to a match's outcome. In the recently-concluded series between India and Sri Lanka, we saw how crucial his presence was in the middle order. In the 2nd ODI, he propelled India to victory with the help of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, by forming a 100-run partnership for the eighth wicket. In the first ODI of the recent India-Australia series, he helped India reach a formidable target on a track which was tough to score on. Aided by Hardik Pandya, this performance formed the foundation for India's victory.
His performance in T20Is since 2015 has been astounding, with a batting average of 47.75 and strike rate of 159.16 in matches that India has won; he has scored better compared to his overall average and strike rate. Astonishingly, he scored his first T20I 50 last year against England. Since 2015, he has scored roughly 30% of both the total boundaries and total sixes of his career. This clearly indicates that he has been in great form for the last two years.
Lightning hands behind the wicket
Behind the wickets, Dhoni has been magical over the years. His spectacular run-out against Bangladesh in the 2016 edition of T20 World Cup is etched in the memories of Indian cricket fans. Dhoni ranks fourth-highest in the list of dismissals by any wicket-keeper in ODIs, and also holds the world record for the most number of stumpings. Even at the age of 36, his wicketkeeping skills and presence of mind are superlative.
Bolt between the wickets
Dhoni is as fit as the younger players in the team. His ability to convert singles into doubles and to motivate his batting partner to do so highlight this. By wicketkeeping for 50 overs and then sprinting while batting, no one can argue that Dhoni is one of the quickest and most energetic in the cricketing world.
For any team who wants to win matches on a regular basis, the right composition is key. Along with the raw energy of the younger players, the presence of experienced players is important to channelise their potential in the right direction. Dhoni assists Kohli in his captaincy and grooms the younger players around him. With the 2019 World Cup in mind, an in-form Dhoni will play a crucial role in helping Kohli's brigade replicate India's triumph in 2011.