Even the finest of cricketers can go through difficult phases when he has to struggle to save his reputation and place in the playing eleven. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is enduring a crisis of sorts for the first time in his decade-long career.
Dhoni, 34, has already given up Test cricket, and is now facing questions about his status as an impact player in limited-overs cricket. A veteran of 266 ODIs, his leadership instincts have not dulled but his abilities as a finisher with big shots appear beyond him. In Kanpur, in the five-run defeat against South Africa, he consumed five overs, but managed just one four.
His ODI batting statistics since 2014 suggest his skill as an enforcer is waning. From January 2014 to Sunday’s Kanpur match, Dhoni has played 28 ODIs. Of the 15 games where India chased, they lost eight, won six with one match tied. In most of those defeats, Dhoni’s dismissal came at the crunch moment. However, he did not have to bat in four games.
Last year’s New Zealand tour provided an example. In the first ODI in Napier, where India were chasing 292, Dhoni, on a pitch of good bounce, made 40 off 46 balls before being caught behind in the 43rd over. India, reduced to 224/5, lost by 24 runs in the 49th over.
Dhoni’s 42-ball 29 in the Leeds ODI, after England set a 294-run target, also ended in failure. He fell in the 37th over, triggering a collapse, and India lost by 41 runs with eight balls left. Dhoni, though, was on song twice in the World Cup, his unbeaten 45 taking India home against West Indies in Perth and a brilliant 85 not out pulling India out of trouble against Zimbabwe in Auckland.
The criticism is growing, although Dhoni has four games left to show that his value to the team is intact. One of his supporters is former chief selector, Kiran More, whose committee drafted him into the national squad for the first time in 2004 and Dhoni vindicated their decision with a sensational 148 against Pakistan in only his fifth international outing.
“I don’t know why everybody is now talking about Dhoni. Like everyone, he is also passing through a tough time, but he is still a match winner. Why are cricket commentators and experts not talking about Virat Kohli? Please check his stats in the last 15 ODIs. The criticism of Dhoni is unfair,” More told HT on Monday.
Against Bangladesh at Dhaka, India, chasing 307, were 115/4 with 193 runs required from 27 overs when Dhoni came in to bat. His seven-ball five saw India dismissed in the 46th over, losing by 79 runs.
“Dhoni’s ability has been questioned because India are losing. But I am a firm believer in Dhoni. He has nothing to prove to anybody. He has a lot of cricket left in him,” said the former stumper.
After the Kanpur loss, former captain Sunil Gavaskar also said Dhoni should not made a scapegoat while pointing out the age factor. A coach who has known him since his early days said: “He is struggling, and if you want to play more, you have to make runs. I think he is trying too hard and putting pressure on himself. Dhoni has to play up as the more balls he faces, the more he will score,” SAI coach MP Singh said.