What is the ideal batting position for MS Dhoni?
"No one has the right to criticise MS Dhoni."
When your head coach makes a statement like that about you, you know how special you are. Sunil Gavaskar once said that MS Dhoni has the ability to rise from the ashes. And he really has, time and time again.
When the chips are down, when all seems lost, Dhoni always has the belief. He still has the confidence to do things which leave everyone gaping.
Dhoni might have not scored as many one-day runs as Sachin Tendulkar did, but to score over 10,000 runs while batting at number 5, 6 and even 7 is mind-boggling.
He is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats. However, an illustrious career which has every achievement a cricketer could dream of, is now at its twilight.
There was a time when he would come out all guns blazing. It seemed as though he got himself set in the dressing room itself. He had tremendous potential to take the best bowling attacks apart with his striking ability.
Dhoni had his own way of chasing down totals, and that way was unique to him. He would keep our hearts in our mouths till the very last ball and then suddenly he would allow us to release our breaths as he finished it off in style. Such was the aura of MS Dhoni, the finisher.
But Dhoni is no more 28 years old. He's 37. Ageing is inevitable, and you can't possibly have the kind of power and reflexes at 37 that you had when you were 28. Dhoni is not an exception either, as is evident from his recent struggles against spin. He would smash the best spinners out of the park at will in the past, but spinners have his number these days.
Having said that, it is amazing that he's still going on undeterred, not giving up, and still being the match-winner that he is.
India's favourite cricketing son after Tendulkar needs time in the middle these days. And when he starts to find the middle of the bat after spending some time at the crease, he becomes a different player.
We saw that in the Australia series in January. The old Mahi was back, taking the game deep, soaking the pressure and winning the game with some lusty blows in the end. That is the simple reason why No. 4 is the ideal position for him.
Ambati Rayudu has impressed, but he still has not given the confidence that you need in a player for a tournament as big as the World Cup 2019. But Dhoni has the magical ability to take the team out of a crisis situation. When wickets fall early, you know he will be there to steady the ship in the middle-order.
People complain about his slow approach in the middle overs. However, if he plays an anchor role, that approach is absolutely fine. Other prolific scorers can play around him and score at a fair clip and all through that, Dhoni can just go about his business quietly.
What everyone will agree on, however, is that batting him at number 5 or 6 will probably under-utilization of Dhoni, the batsman.
Dhoni had mentioned recently that after 14 years of batting, he can't tell the team management that he can't bat at number 6. He will, instead, do whatever the team needs from him - such is his greatness and selflessness.
However, the management needs to realize that batting him at number 4 is in the interest of not only him but also the team.
If India are to lift the World Cup trophy, they need Dhoni's guidance and his calmness, but more importantly his batting prowess. After all, lions get old but they don't forget how to hunt!