Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s blazing double hundred against Australia at Chennai has helped India steal the advantage in the first innings. Coming in at the fall of Sachin Tendulkar (81), the Indian captain altered the course of the game with an attacking display that stunned the Australian bowlers. An innings of pure entertainment, it underlines Dhoni’s game-changing abilities and the value he adds with the bat to India’s Test side.
In the aftermath of the shocking series defeats in England and Australia, the pressure had mounted on Dhoni. A few people demanded his head and even questioned his place in the Test side. While he was inconsistent with the bat, it was his captaincy that was under fire and the bone of contention in the argument. Things took a turn for the worse when India lost a home series against England and he came into the ongoing series against Australia with some serious question marks hanging over him.
Dhoni walked into the game when Nathan Lyon, the off-spinner, was getting purchase from the wicket. Tendulkar had been foxed by a delivery that pitched in the rough and it looked like Lyon was getting into his elements. Dhoni instantly took the attack to the spinner and tried to break his rhythm. By charging to him and striking a few boundaries, he put the pressure back on Lyon and forced Michael Clarke to introduce the fast-bowlers.
With the fast-bowlers in, Dhoni started using their pace to his advantage. Some of the shots he played were absolutely stunners. By shuffling at the crease, he was ready to loft them over the infield or drive through the off-side. At the cusp of three figures, he had the audacity to walk down to the fast-bowler and smash him over square leg.
In many ways, it was the typical Dhoni innings — ones we see often in the one-day arena. There have been times when he has tried to be more conservative in Test cricket, but his natural game is most effective and devastating. Once he crossed his hundred, he went berserk and stuck into Lyon. It was almost as if he was hitting the ball at will and was seeing it like a football.
This is Dhoni’s first Test hundred since November 2011. His last ton came against the West Indies at Kolkata and since then he has recorded a few fifties. During the series against New Zealand, he scored two crucial innings at Bangalore when the tourists were putting up a fight and making things tough for the hosts. Then, against England, his innings of 99 at Nagpur was a very attritional effort as India tried to save the series with the odds stacked against them. The outing at Chennai has allowed him to break the shackles.
For a major part of his career, Dhoni has batted at No 7. However, records would suggest that the No 6 spot is where he has thrived and has the best record. Here is his record at both positions:
*Innings in progress at the time of writing. Stats updated with Dhoni unbeaten on 206.
Shane Warne said during the tea break that Dhoni has batted too low and that is why he doesn’t boast of a good record in Test cricket. The legendary leg-spinner also said that No 6 is his spot and more so in Indian conditions. These arguments are strong considering Dhoni’s fantastic record at No 6. He may not have batted a lot there, but his record shows he is comfortable when pushed up.
Since the retirement of Sourav Ganguly, the No 6 spot has been troublesome. India have tried several batsmen there and none of them established themselves in the long run. Virat Kohli is the only one who capitalised on those opportunities and finds himself at a higher number. Here are the records of the Indian batsmen at No 6 since Ganguly’s retirement:
*Innings in progress at the time of writing. Stats updated with Dhoni unbeaten on 206
Dhoni was never considered a serious option for the said position. However, the frequent chopping and changing hasn’t helped and it makes sense to keep him at No 6 in the long run. With the all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja in the side, Dhoni’s promotion was forced. In the process, India may have stumbled upon a solution to their long term predicament.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)