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MS Dhoni should bat at No 5 to stabilise Indian batting

MS Dhoni has to move himself up the order to provide more stability to India's batting © Getty Images
MS Dhoni has to move himself up the order to provide more stability to India’s batting © Getty Images

By Shrikant Shankar

India have struggled to find a consistent batsman for the No 4 and No 5 slots in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) off late. All batting positions are important in any form of cricket, and if there are issues in two of the top-order slots, a team if bound to struggle. It can quite happen that a flurry of early wickets can leave a team in a tough situation, but the middle-order has to be able to cope with that and stitch together partnerships and build innings. India are currently unable to do that due to the poor form of some of their players. That is why the man perennially in form — MS Dhoni should bat at No 5 rather than No 6 for India.

The top three positions in the Indian ODI batting order are set — at least for now. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma will be India’s opening pair for the time-being despite their own recent lack of runs. They have done well as a pair and need this experience of batting together in New Zealand conditions in order to prepare for the ICC World Cup 2015 jointly hosted in Australia and New Zealand. Let’s leave any talk about the No 3 position as there is no one better in the world than Virat Kohli for that position. It is the No 4 and No 5 slots that are causing India a concern at the moment.

They have tested many players at those slots in the last few months. Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik have primarily been used at No 4 from the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. It is an important position and for the first ODI against New Zealand at Napier, Ajinkya Rahane was used. But Rahane has not been given enough chances for India and he needs more time. The No 5 position, however, is another area of concern. From the Champions Trophy onwards, only four players have been used at No 5 fore India — Raina, Yuvraj, Karthik and Dhoni. The Indian captain has played only one innings at No 5 in that time period, so, let us exclude him from our analysis.

Below is a table of Indian batsmen who have batted at the No 5 position from June 1, 2013, onwards in ODIs:

Player

M

R

Ave

SR

HS

Suresh Raina

16

238

21.63

82.06

44

Yuvraj Singh

6

19

4.75

76.00

12

Dinesh Karthik

5

38

19.00

56.71

22

Note: Dhoni has not been included in this list.

Dhoni has always been a massive player for India. He may not have the greatest of techniques, but he can score a lot of runs and fast. His average in ODIs is at a lofty 52.79. This shows that for the most part of his career, he has been in great form. He is also one of the few batsmen who have batted in Australian and New Zealand’s conditions before. He seems to outscore batsmen at the No 4 and No 5 slots from his usual No 6 position on a regular basis. Clearly, after Kohli, Dhoni is India’s best batsman form wise. Dhoni has excelled in most of the positions he has batted in throughout his career.

Below is a table showing Dhoni’s career ODI records while batting at No 4, No 5 and No 6:

Batting position

M

R

Ave

SR

100s

50s

HS

No 4

18

910

70

103.4

1

9

109*

No 5

48

1,910

54.57

85.53

3

9

124

No 6

95

3,040

46.06

84.25

1

21

139*

For the bulk of his career, Dhoni has batted at No 5 and No 6. From the start of his career till about the last year or two, Dhoni has had the batsmen of the caliber of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj, Sourav Ganguly, Gautam Gambhir and Kohli in the team. When these players have been a part of the team and also in great knick, Dhoni was not needed higher up than No 6. Plus, Dhoni is India’s best finisher in the shorter formats, so, it didn’t make sense for him to bat higher.

But now there seems to be a genuine problem at the No 5 position. Even if India get off the fliers and the top-order clicks, there does not seem to be batsmen who can carry the momentum forward and to help achieve victory. In fact, all the momentum is lost and Dhoni has to do a lot more to bail India out. The table shows that Dhoni has his best numbers in ODIs when he has batted at No 5. This is simply due to the fact that he gets a lot more time and deliveries to get settled in and then power-on.

Things are not working that well right now for India and that is why Dhoni must bat higher up the order. If things click, then it can only improve India and help them in the defence of their World Cup crown. And on that note, one should not forget that Dhoni batted at No 5 to win India the 2011 World Cup final.

(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)

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