MS Dhoni played a magical innings of 91 not out in the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

On April 2, 2011, subcontinent rivals India and Sri Lanka clashed for the World Cup. Chasing 275 for the coveted trophy, India were 114 for three and the game was in the balance. As Virat Kohli walked back to the dressing room, the silent crowd at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai was anticipating the arrival of Yuvraj Singh at the crease. To their amazement, the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked in ahead of the in-form Yuvraj – India’s talisman throughout the tournament. What happened after that is a fairytale as a man who struggled throughout the tournament lit up the biggest stage. The legend of Dhoni at Wankhede will be a part of Indian cricket folklore.

 

What the innings at Wankhede reminded us was that Dhoni is a genuine match-winner who can adapt and play according to the situation. His 91 not out in the World Cup final was a perfect example of how he could win games with a mixture of caution and aggression. The fact that Sri Lanka had two off-spinners in their ranks prompted Dhoni to promote himself ahead of the left-handed Yuvraj. On numerous occasions Dhoni had showed that he has a cool head, but on the night of the big final he put a stamp on that claim.

 

Dhoni finds himself in a high-pressure situation in the One-Day international Series (ODI) against England as he is without the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma. This situation may not be as intense as the one he dealt with during the World Cup final. Nevertheless it is a test and he would like to sail through with flying colors. For that, he needs to put his hand up and take the responsibility of guiding the Indian innings as his biggest trump cards have left England.

 

Dhoni is getting wasted at No 6 or No 7. He may be the slogger at times, but he is most effective when he gets time in the middle. Since taking over as captain, his flamboyance is tempered with caution. And that approach has fetched India a good number of wins. Whenever he bats up the order he paces his innings very well and sets a platform to go berserk at the end. The World Cup final is the best example as he started off slowly but then unveiled his range of shots once he got his eye in.

 

Dhoni’s stats tell the story that he is a better batman when he is batting up the order. He has been very successful at No 3, No 4 or No 5.

 

How Dhoni has fared batting at No 3 to No 5:

Positions

Inngs

Runs

Avge

100s

50s

Number 3

16

993

82.75

2

6

Number 4

16

833

69.42

1

9

Number 5

45

1852

54.47

3

9

The numbers reflect the fact that Dhoni has been more effective when he bats up the order. At number three he has played some idiosyncratic knocks as he has taken apart the opposition bowling. Number five seems to be the ideal position as he has scored most of his runs there and has hit three of his seven hundreds while batting at that position.

 

At number six or seven, the situation demands quick scoring and crazy hitting. In slog overs, batsmen go after the bowling. One mistake can end their stay in the middle. Dhoni is a very good hitter, but a batsman of his calibre can make an even bigger difference up the order rather than being wasted at six or seven. Here are his stats in the lower order:

 

Positions

Inngs

Runs

Avge

100s

50s

Number 6

59

1614

35.09

0

9

Number 7

26

641

40.06

1

4

 

Averages of 35 and 40 lower down the order are very good and it is the hallmark of a fantastic one-day player. But when compared to his stats up the order, it is clear that his utility to the team increases when he bats higher.

 

Injuries to Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma have left a big hole in the Indian batting as the squad has just six batsmen – excluding the replacements. The replacements are yet to arrive and that would mean that India would be forced to go in with all their batsmen in the second ODI. Since, India are a batsman short, it may be a good idea to bat Dhoni at No 3 and get Dravid to bat at No 5, where the latter can be the fulcrum between the top order and the lower order. A stable batsman in the form of Dravid is required at five because he would be followed by Suresh Raina (the designated hitter) and the bowlers.

 

Tendulkar’s absence from the England One-Day series leaves Dhoni with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Dravid and Kohli’s presence in the middle-order adds stability but it is still a very young side. The Indian captain needs step up in this tough situation. He needs to assert himself with the bat and make his performances count. India needs an encore of his heroics from the past. A promotion in the batting order would be the first step.

 

(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.”)