MS Dhoni's innings of 77 runs on day one marks his return to form but critics will ask for more consistency from the Indian captain © Getty Images


By Nishad Pai Vaidya


With critics baying for his blood and another batting collapse looming large, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian captain produced a fantastic innings to take his team to a decent total in the first innings of the third Test against England at Edgbaston. When he walked in to bat at 92 for five, one would have expected him to be circumspect and cautious in his approach, but he had other plans. It was good to see him come out with an aggressive intent and it was due to this approach that India ended up with 224. It isn’t easy to have that approach when you are the captain of a struggling team coupled with critics questioning your own form. Yet again, Dhoni showed that he has a strong mind and can focus on the job at hand, irrespective of other factors.


Dhoni’s innings was commendable, no doubt, but as one of the commentators said that such knocks have been “few and far in between” over the last one year or so; he produces one flashy innings every series. Apart from one knock there isn’t much to talk about his batting. Such knocks have generally come when fans and critics have come down hard upon his batting form. These knocks do nothing more than silencing the critics for a fleeting while.


When one looks at Dhoni’s performance in Tests since the tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 2010, one would realize that he has — at max — scored just one fifty per series, barring the Tests against Australia where his highest was just 30. In the other series, it has almost been as if he had a quota of one fifty. In the said period he has reached the 90 twice but hasn’t been able to cross the three figure mark.


When India were in Sri Lanka in July-August 2010, Dhoni’s lone fifty of the series came in the second Test. His 76 came after Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina rescued India from a precarious position. The next time he crossed fifty in a Test was in the last of the three Tests against the touring New Zealanders. In the first two Tests of the series Dhoni failed to make a mark with the bat and the critics were hauling him over the coals. Dhoni then scored 98 in the final Test as India looked to win the Test and the series.


In the Test series in South Africa, Dhoni’s only fifty came in the first Test. It was a gutsy and a fighting knock as he tried to build a partnership with Tendulkar to save India from an innings defeat. He got starts at Durban in the second Test with 35 and 21 but didn’t carry on. In hindsight, the two knocks were important as it was a low-scoring Test match.


In the West Indies Test series, the script was similar to New Zealand’s tour. Dhoni didn’t get too many runs in the first two Test matches but in the final Test at Dominica he scripted 74. This knock was again the critic-silencing act which followed a string of low scores.


Unfortunately for India, this pattern has continued into the England tour. But with one more innings left in the ongoing Test and a match to go, Dhoni has a chance to break the yearlong pattern by simply scoring more runs.


The point is that there have been too many such instances by Dhoni the batsman over the last year. The infrequency of meaningful knocks is worrying as there are too many mediocre scores in between.


Interestingly, the 2011 Cricket World Cup 2011 witnessed the Dhoni pattern. Throughout the tournament he got off to starts but did not convert any of them into big ones. His match-winning knock of 91 not out in the final meant that the critics and fans had forgiven him for his previous outings as the most important mission was accomplished. But, if one looks at the larger picture, he needs to get back to his consistent best.


He was ranked No 1 one in the ICC ODI Rankings for Batsmen for quite some time, but has now slipped to the eighth position. The fact that he was No 1 for a long time shows that he can be consistent and that he is not the flash-in-the-pan player. He needs to rekindle that consistency so that he doesn’t have to answer the critics time and again.


The starts have to be converted into good scores. On quite a few occasions a moment of indiscretion has led to his dismissal. Thus, the start gets wasted and the team is left disappointed. Dhoni needs to guard against such moments and be sensible in his shot selection.


At Edgbaston, his mind was clear as to what he had to do in the middle and that clarity was something that was missing for quite some time. He needs to maintain that clarity and continue with the positive approach because that is when he bats best.


(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)