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Should MS Dhoni call it time on his T20I career?

There are questions revolving Dhoni that everyone is deliberating and trying to seek answers to, yet it is important to not impose our opinions.

MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Team India’s defeat in Rajkot in the 2nd T20I was another example of how the team needs to figure out what exactly is still wrong in their approach in limited overs cricket but it was also an instance where MS Dhoni’s waning prowess in the shortest format pulled them down. They were already in a fix when Dhoni walked in at 6 when the scoreboard read 67/4 in the 10 over and the required run rate was soaring close to 12 with only Axar Patel a decent enough batsman left to come.

India were staring at another defeat lest a Virat Kohli miracle prevented that. In Kohli’s 42-ball 65, the pressure of the required run rate (which was touching 17 by now) had the better of him when he had to take the aerial route more than he would have liked. Team India were then in a pretty familiar territory. All batsmen gone Dhoni still standing. Too many runs to chase and hardly the number of overs in his favour. Contrary to the popular narrative, the onus rather the inability to chase the tall total is not on entirely Dhoni.

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Yet, the purpose of this piece is not to figure out where and how we lost the match but to reflect if Dhoni’s future in T20I cricket. It is no news that the numbers are not in his favour. Not the age, not the average, not the strike rate, and not the batting position.

A case for Dhoni up the order

It is bizarre to see someone who is evidently struggling to hit the big shots from the first ball walking in when a situation demands him to do that very thing, repeatedly. And that alone can be attributed to the position he batted on, in the game. Would the situation have been different if Dhoni had walked in at 4 with Kohli took his usual No. 3 position? One can visualise a distinction scenario had he played a proper anchoring role then with Kohli playing the aggressor on the other end?

Look at his overall numbers in all the positions he has batted:

MS Dhoni
(Design Credit: Nikhil)

The difference is clear. Would it help if he did not have to bat at No. 6 where his strike rate reduces considerably, he struggles to rotate strike and he has fewer balls to face?

If the team is willing to shun the likes of Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik and Sanju Samson who are possible contenders for the wicketkeeper batsman’s role in order to persist with Dhoni, they should also give him a position where questions about his place in the team are not raised every time he fails to win India a match.

When he stepped down as captain, the biggest takeaway, rather silver lining remained that he would have more freedom as a batsman and we would see more of him up the order, where he is known to play his natural game. If India still do not want to part ways with Dhoni in the shortest format, they need to figure out a way to give him that despite their constant chopping and changing in the middle-order.

Is Dhoni’s glovework helping his case?

Many may argue that Dhoni gets the leeway because of the multiple facets he brings to the table. Apart from the genius cricket brain he has, his unmatched experience and the fact that he is an advisor for a rather tactically weak captain, he brings the added advantage of being better behind the stumps than anyone in the world.

The other side of the debate would question the value of a wicketkeeper in a twenty-over game. While I think that someone like Karthik or Pant can fit into that role, it is important to consider that they would not be the best players at number six either. Like Dhoni, they are also best suited up the order. So why not let the best wicketkeeper, Dhoni, assume the role rather than ask an average wicketkeeper to occupy the spot?

Dhoni: ODIs vs T20Is

Dhoni’s change in approach from a clean-hitting finisher to a batsman who now enjoys playing an anchoring role works very well in the ODIs. It works because there is relatively more time to settle and then accelerate. However, the T20 scene demands instant acceleration and Dhoni can clearly not provide us that.

MS Dhoni’s last 10 ODI and T20I innings

Again, that is established by the comparison between the two formats. The debate about his batting situation arose even when he was underperforming in the ODI format but adapting is understandably easier there, especially if he only has to build upon an already laid-down foundation. The biggest T20I event for the Men in Blue is three years away, the 2019 World Cup will happen one year before that.

While there aren’t many reasons for why he should not play the World Cup 2019, a doubt remains about his participation in the WT20 in 2020? India will not immediately find a replacement for Dhoni if he leaves after WC
19 so should India start grooming the successors already?

Calling it time

There are questions revolving Dhoni that everyone is deliberating and trying to seek answers to, yet it is important to not impose our opinions. Because like Rahul Dravid said, the man himself must get decide when he wants to call time.

Moreover, the little we know about Dhoni, it is understood that he is someone who would not play the game just for the sake of it. He will walk away silently when he realises he doesn’t have anything to offer to the game.

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