Dhoni is an almost unparalleled asset in history as a successful, multi-tasking 'keeper, batsman and captain

MS Dhoni s average hovers around the 40 mark, and does so over 77 Test matches. The very act of questioning his abilities seem farcical. And to imagine that India is teeming with men with his abilities is as close to ridiculous that we can get © PTI

The incredible 224 in the first Test match and the 4-0 final scoreline have perhaps shell-shocked his critics into temporary silence before the shortness of public memory works its unfailing magic. As wicket-keeper, batsman and captain, MS Dhoni’s worth is unparalleled in the history of cricket, and it is time that his baiters woke up to this undeniable fact, opines Arunabha Sengupta.

The 224 at Chennai was a blistering gem of an innings, one of the very best demonstrations of counter attack under pressure ever witnessed in the country. Millions were baying for his blood, flames of anger fanned by rather irresponsible media coverage, disgruntled ex-selectors and calumnious former captains. The team was under enormous pressure, having lost the pervious home series against England and batting through a critical juncture of the first Test. The skipper came in to play a blinder of an innings that can very well become a watershed moment in Indian cricket. It won the Test match and set the tone for the series.

If that knock performed the much-needed action of shutting up the rather curious criticism that he did not have the technique to bat in Test cricket, the 4-0 verdict against the Australians have sent at least a portion of the clamouring critics into hibernation. The wins have come as emphatically as possible and have been achieved with sterling performances by several young guns. He has backed the correct players, and they have delivered. Not even the most prejudiced and parochial pestilence can now claim that this team had been built for him by some esoteric intangible miracles of the past. This is a unit that has been put together from scratch by the current team management, and if Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja are anything to go by, the inclusions have had to wade through a raging inferno of vilification before being proved correct by success.

MS Dhoni has taken all this in his stride and has engineered an amazing turnaround during a difficult transition period. Now, as the naysayers take refuge behind vacuous doomsday predictions surrounding the South African series eight months into the future, the Indian captain can relax and prepare for future battles without having to bother about the relentless jaws of irrationality snapping at his heels.

Wicketkeeper, batsman, captain — a cocktail of amazing numbers

In the midst of the perceptions generated by various vested interests, the value of Dhoni is often missed out by the legion of critics swaying to the prevalent winds of opinions.

In previous articles, I have tried to demonstrate how Dhoni is the most successful Indian skipper on several counts, how his batting ability as a wicketkeeper is unparalleled in the history of Indian cricket, how attributing his success to luck is pure nonsense and how the often ventured alternatives suggested as his replacement were driven by perceptions or prejudice and not by facts. In these same pages, Abhishek Mukherjee has pointed out his greatness as a One-Day International batsman. Here, I will attempt to show how he stands out as an almost unique phenomenon in cricket, and it is high time that we stopped looking this  supreme gift horse in the mouth.

Dhoni’s batting technique is not conventional. This often leads the claims “Dhoni does not have the technique for Test cricket” and “Dhoni does not deserve a place in the side”, especially when made by important and self-important voices, take on the proportions ofgospel. And perceptions once formed are almost impossible to dispel. The readers who can look beyond the urban myth of Sachin Tendulkar hundreds resulting in defeats will very well understand what I mean by that.

In discussions we also come across the argument: “We will never know if there are better wicketkeeper batsmen in India, because Dhoni is pinning down the position.”

Well, India has habitually played with wicket-keepers, even the ones good enough to be used as opening batsmen, averaging in the mid to late twenties. Only Farokh Engineer and Budhi Kunderan managed to break into the early thirties, but did not manage to go beyond them. Dhoni’s average hovers around the 40 mark, and does so over 77 Test matches. The very act of questioning his abilities seem farcical. And to imagine that India is teeming with men with his abilities is as close to ridiculous that we can get.

However, let us look at why he brings a value that very few wicketkeepers have brought across time and place since the beginning of Test cricket.

Wicket-keeping is a specialist’s job. In early days, it was not always required of the stumper to be a batsman of note. Times have changed since then, but even now performing the two roles together is not the easiest of jobs in the world.

The pressures involved in being a wicketkeeper and a leading batsman of the side can be gauged from the records of such genuine batsmen as Clyde Walcott, Kumar Sangakkara and Alec Stewart.

Stewart scored at 46.06 in the 51 Tests as a specialist batsman, while his average came down to 34.91 in the 83 Tests as wicket-keeper.

In Sangakkara’s case, the difference is even more glaring. In 69 Tests as a batsman, the Sri Lankan scores at 68.86. In the 48 Tests as ’keeper, his average plummets to 40.48.

Even the great Clyde Walcott’s average leaped from 40.36 to 64.66 when he gave up the bigger gloves.
In that context, Dhoni’s 39.70 is a fantastic average, and the fact that it has been achieved over 77 Tests and 4209 runs highlights the greatness of the numbers in the all-time scale.

If we look across the entire span of Test cricket, we find just 46 men have scored more than 1000 runs as wicket-keeper. Only seven of them average more than 40. And MS Dhoni is the eighth on the list, scoring at 39.70.

Wicketkeepers with best batting average

(in Tests played as ’keeper, minimum qualification 1000 runs)

Wicket-keeper Period T Runs HS Ave 100s 50s
A Flower (Zim) 1992-2002 55 4404 232* 53.70 12 23
AB de Villiers (SA) 2004-2013 14 1019 169 50.95 3 4
AC Gilchrist (Aus) 1999-2008 96 5570 204* 47.60 17 26
MJ Prior (Eng) 2007-2013 65 3527 131* 44.08 6 26
LEG Ames (Eng) 1929-1939 44 2387 149 43.40 8 7
KC Sangakkara (SL) 2000-2008 48 3117 230 40.48 7 11
DT Lindsay (SA) 1964-1970 15 1000 182 40.00 3 4
MS Dhoni (India) 2005-2013 77 4209 224 39.70 6 28
BJ Haddin (Aus) 2008-2013 44 2308 169 35.50 3 10
AJ Stewart (Eng) 1991-2003 82 4540 173 34.92 6 23
BB McCullum (NZ) 2004-2010 51 2782 185 34.77 5 15
Mushfiqur Rahim (Ban) 2007-2013 30 1810 200 33.51 2 9
APE Knott (Eng) 1967-1981 95 4389 135 32.75 5 30
JM Parks (Eng) 1960-1968 43 1876 108* 32.34 2 9
PJL Dujon (WI) 1982-1991 79 3146 139 31.46 5 16

When we go down the list after Dhoni makes his appearance, we find Stewart, Brendon McCullum, Jeff Dujon, Brad Haddin — men whom popular perception would more often than not place higher in the list as batsmen.

When it comes to the runs scored as a wicket-keeper, Dhoni is seventh on the list. Only Adam Gilchrist and Andy Flower have scored more at a better average.

Wicketkeepers with highest aggregate of Test runs (matches played as ’keeper)

Wicket-keeper Period T Runs HS Ave 100s 50s
AC Gilchrist (Aus) 1999-2008 96 5570 204* 47.60 17 26
MV Boucher (ICC/SA) 1997-2012 147 5515 125 30.30 5 35
AJ Stewart (Eng) 1991-2003 82 4540 173 34.92 6 23
A Flower (Zim) 1992-2002 55 4404 232* 53.70 12 23
APE Knott (Eng) 1967-1981 95 4389 135 32.75 5 30
IA Healy (Aus) 1988-1999 119 4356 161* 27.39 4 22
MS Dhoni (India) 2005-2013 77 4209 224 39.70 6 28
RW Marsh (Aus) 1970-1984 96 3633 132 26.51 3 16
MJ Prior (Eng) 2007-2013 65 3527 131* 44.08 6 26
PJL Dujon (WI) 1982-1991 79 3146 139 31.46 5 16

Let me point out for emphasis here that the above tables are for wicketkeepers around the world from the very beginning of Test cricket, a history of 135 years. It does seem really amazing that someone supposedly not possessing a technique good enough for Test cricket should end up that high in these all-time lists.

Finally, wicket-keeping and batting together constitute a rather formidable challenge, as can very well be made out from the figures given above. Hence, not too many have opted to wear the additional hat of the captain.

Dhoni has led in 47 Tests — by far the highest among wicketkeepers. The next stumper-captain in the list is Andy Flower with 16.

Powered by the sheer number of Tests, Dhoni leads the run aggregate as wicketkeeper captain. However, strangely, his batting average as a captain even better than his overall batting average.

Indeed, among Indian captains, he stands behind only Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar in that regard, going neck and neck with a batsman as great as Rahul Dravid. Among all wicketkeeper captains, his batting average is the best after Andy Flower.

Top batting averages for ’keeper-captains (minimum qualification 10 Tests as captain)

Keepers as captain Period T Runs HS Ave 100s 50s
A Flower (Zim) 1993-2000 16 1232 156 49.28 3 7
MS Dhoni (India) 2008-2013 47 2787 224 44.23 5 19
T Taibu (Zim) 2004-2005 10 674 153 37.44 1 5
AJ Stewart (Eng) 1993-2001 12 781 164 37.19 1 3
Moin Khan (Pak) 1998-2001 13 438 70 27.37 0 2
PW Sherwell (SA) 1906-1911 13 427 115 23.72 1 1
FCM Alexander (WI) 1958-1960 18 466 70 22.19 0 2
LK Germon (NZ) 1995-1997 12 382 55 21.22 0 1
Khaled Mashud (Ban) 2001-2004 12 385 51 20.26 0 1

Here we may do well to remember than MS Dhoni is not only a captain, but the captain of India – a job that perhaps attracts the biggest number of eyeballs amongall sporting professions.

It is time that those eyes moved back a shade to look at MS Dhoni the phenomenon against the backdrop of cricketing history. He is an invaluable asset, and it is time his countrymen realised his worth.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)