Is Mahendra Singh Dhoni really the master finisher the media makes him out to be?

MS Dhoni hits the last ball of the innings for three to tie the CB series ODI against Sri Lanka at Adelaide Oval on Thursday © Getty Images


By Vincent Sunder


Does perception rule over reality? Indeed! Especially if the media drums up hysteria devoid of facts. The latest cricket hype has been about the perceived finishing abilities of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The print and visual media has gone to town, thanks to one stroke that sailed over the boundary to get a win for India over Australia, and another final scoring shot for three runs that staved off a defeat against Sri Lanka, handing India a tied game.


Is Dhoni really the master finisher he is being made out to be?


Let’s take stock of the games since 2011 when India chased a target in One-Day Internationals in which Dhoni had played. India have been involved in 15 games where they had to chase a target. They have won 10 games, lost four and tied one.


How has Dhoni fared in these games? Aside from the last two games in the current Commonwealth Series, Dhoni has made a contribution in just two other games – the World Cup final where he scored an unbeaten 91, a game where Gambhir guided the run-chase with 97, and the match against England at Mohali where he made an unbeaten 35 off 31 balls, a match where Rahane with 91 and Gambhir with 58 had laid the foundation.


In four games against South Africa in 2011, Dhoni had scores of 25, 5, two and five. In the World Cup, his contributions in chases were 30, 19, 7 and 91 not out. The series against England had scores of 35 not out and 15.  The current series saw 29 being made in a lost cause against Australia and four runs against Sri Lanka, a game where Ravichandra Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja guided India to a win after Dhoni’s failure. Aside from the World Cup final, his only knock of substance is a mere 30 off 50 deliveries in the World Cup match against Ireland at Bangalore! His complete failure in South Africa aside, Dhoni made just seven runs in a crucial semi-final game against Australia in the World Cup quarter-final.


And in these 15 games, bigger contributors have come from other players. Gambhir has scores of 50, 97, 84 not out, 58, 92, and 91 where aside from one tie, the other five games were won.  Virat Kohli starred with the bat in four games with scores of 54, 87 not out, 112 and 86 not out where the only loss was against South Africa. Yuvraj features with three half centuries when chasing targets in three World Cup wins! Contributions significantly larger than the man now being hailed as a greatest ever finisher!


There is no doubting Dhoni’s intelligence in the shorter formats of the game or his ability to pull out the big shots. Should the likes of Kohli or Rohit Sharma learn to put a price on their wicket like Dhoni does, they would have far better performances to show against their names. The fact of the matter is that Dhoni has won very few games in chases in recent times and there are other batsmen who have fared far better.


Victories or even avoiding a defeat with a tie pushes some events under the carpet, that otherwise would have been debated. The timing of using the batting power play in the last game against Sri Lanka when Dhoni and Raina were new at the crease with a long way to go in the game never got a mention. Would the last Laisth Malinga delivery that an off balance Dhoni swung for three runs been a wide had Dhoni not swatted it?


It’s more about the media than Dhoni


This analysis is not a reflection about Dhoni, but is more a comment on the media and how baseless and ridiculous is the Dhoni trumpet that they are blowing sky high. This euphoria could quite be the making of interested quarters to further a brand that they have invested in. If not necessarily show the others who have performed in winning causes in poor light, it certainly does not give credit to those who deserve it whilst heaping undeserved praise on an inconsistent and average performer in run-chases.


Summary of the last 15 games since 2011 when India chased a target in One-Day Internationals:


1. Kingsmead, Durban, January 2011 vs SA


India were chasing 290 to win. Dhoni came in at 43 for four and was out for 25 off 35 balls with the score at 95 for five. In a match that was lost, the most significant contribution was from Kohli (54 off 70 deliveries).  A batting failure for Dhoni.


2. Newlands, Cape Town, January 2011 vs SA


India were chasing 221 for a win.  Dhoni came in at 61 for three, and was dismissed for five off 12 deliveries, leaving India at 69 for four. India won the game. Yusuf Pathan hauled India out from 93 for five with an innings of 59 off 50 balls. India’s finisher for this game was Yusuf, supported by Suresh Raina with 37 off 47 balls.


3. St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, January 2011 vs SA


India were chasing 191 from 32.5 overs under Duckworth-Lewis method to win. Dhoni came in at 112 for four and was out for two off eight deliveries, leaving India at 123 for five. Match lost. Kohli remained not out on 87 off 92 balls.


4. Supersport Park, Centurion, January 2011 vs SA


India’s target is 251 for a win.  Dhoni came in at 31 for two and made five runs off 10 deliveries. His dismissal left India at 45 for three. India end at 234. Yusuf Pathan, who came in at 60 for five, made a valiant 105 off 70 balls.


5. World Cup game, March 2011 vs Ireland at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore


Needing 208 to win, India were 100 for four when Dhoni walked in and made 34 off 50 balls to get India to 167 for five. Yuvraj took India home with 50 off 75 balls in the company of Yusuf Pathan, who got 30 not out off 24 balls.


6. World Cup game, March 2011 vs Netherlands at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi


India were chasing 189 for win. Dhoni came in at 139 for five and kept company with Yuvraj who made an unbeaten 51 off 73 deliveries. Dhoni’s scored an unbeaten off 40 deliveries. India won the game.


7. World Cup game, March 2011 vs Australia, Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera


India chased 260 in a critical quarter final game. Dhoni came in with India at 168 for four and scored seven off eight balls. When he was out, India were 187 for five. Yuvraj 57 not out of 65 balls saw India home. Other key contributions came from Sachin Tendulkar  (53 off 68 balls) and Gambhir (50 off 64 balls).


8. World Cup final, April 2011 v/s Sri Lanka, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai


India chases 275 for a win.  Dhoni promoted himself ahead of Yuvraj, He came in at 114 for three to take India to a win with 91 not out of 79 balls. Other key contributor: Gambhir with 97 off 122 balls at the top of the order.


9. Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi, October 2011 vs England


India’s target is 237. Virat Kohli 112 not out off 98 balls and Gambhir 84 not out off 90 balls saw India home. No hit for Dhoni in the game.


10. PCA Stadium, Mohali, October 2011 vs England


Chasing 299 to win, Dhoni came in at 217 for four and saw India home with 35 off 31 deliveries in the company of Jadeja 26 off 24 balls. Other key contributors were Rahane (91 off 104 balls) and Gambhir (58 off 60 balls).


11. Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, October 2011 vs England


Chasing 221 to win, Dhoni came in at 177 for four and scored 15 not out off 18 balls as India won, thanks to Kohli’s unbeaten 86 off 99 balls and Raina’s with 80 off 62 balls.


12. MCG, February 2012 vs Australia


Curtailed game where India chased 217 runs off 32 overs. Dhoni came in at 65 for four and made 29 off 38 balls. Game lost as India made only 151.  


13. WACA, Perth, February 2012 vs Sri Lanka


India’s target is 234. Dhoni came in at 157 for four and is out for four off five deliveries leaving India at 167 for five. India achieve target with Ashwin making 30 off 38 balls and Jadeja 24 off 28 balls, both unbeaten.


14. Adelaide Oval, February 2012 vs Australia


India chase 270 for a win, Dhoni came in at 178 for four and saw India through with an unbeaten 44 off 58 deliveries, a six sealing the win in the last over. Key contributions also came from Gambhir – 92 off 111 deliveries.


15. Adelaide Oval, February 2012 vs Sri Lanka


India tied a game where the target was 237. Dhoni came in at 118 for four and got the last three runs off the last ball to tie the game with 58 not out of 69 balls. Gambhir scored 91 off 106 balls.


(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play ‘gully’ cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well. Vincent gets his ‘high’ from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)