Arunabha Sengupta looks at the man’s footprints on the longest format of the game and attacks the oft repeated assertion that he was never suited for Test cricket as batsman and captain.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
This is not just another hackneyed proverb. Originally a hypothesis framed by American psychologist and thinker William James, the principle underwent utmost stress test during the Second World War. Never was it so successfully implemented as by Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany.
When we look at the relatively innocuous battlegrounds of cricket, we find the history of the game littered with several seldom verified falsehoods which have been repeated loudly and frequently enough to take on the stature of gospel. And one such oft repeated inaccuracy has almost become synonymous with the cricketing phenomenon who has decided to call it a day from Test cricket.
MS Dhoni’s batting style gave purists sleepless nights. Perhaps even more so when he outperformed batting stalwarts with regularity, thus keeping the same purists struggling to overcome their cognitive dissonance.
And then there was his laid back attitude, the curious self-taught technique that looked precarious against seam and swing. Wins in tournament after tournament – including World Cups in two different formats, Champions Trophy, CB Series and others – ultimately forced most of his detractors to concede that he was the best One Day International captain India ever had, and one of the best batsmen ever in the shorter format. However, they latched on to the most unquantifiable of measures – Test captaincy.
Thus was born the legend. “MS Dhoni is suited only for ODIs and T20s. He does not have the technique or temperament to be a Test batsman or captain.” This was repeated often enough by numerous factions that fragment the cricket consciousness in this peculiar country. As a result many believe that he was no good as a Test batsman and skipper.
In the face of cold analysis, this is nothing but Goebellian nonsense.
Looking back at the 90 Test career of the man, one can aptly summarise it using the lyrics of the Glam Metal band Cinderella: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
And without dwelling on the esoteric concepts of temperament and technique, let us look at the incredible accomplishments of the man. Yes, incredible – this is no hyperbole. And yes again, I am talking only about Test matches.
MS Dhoni did shoulder a tremendous load for two-thirds of his Test career. There is a reason that we don’t see too many wicketkeepers donning the captaincy hat in Test matches. The responsibilities become too many to handle for all but the exceptional.
That is why we see MS Dhoni’s 60 Tests as captain towering over the next wicket-keeper captain. Mushfiqur Rahim may be on his way to something special, but he has a lot of catching up to do, having led only 19 Test matches so far. Yet, Rahim finds himself as the second on the list. Yes, Dhoni led in more than three times as many Tests as the next man in the history of cricket. In statistical terms this is exceptional several times over.
And to cap it all, the man who did not have the technique to bat in Test matches also ended up with the highest runs and maximum number of hundreds as captain among wicket keepers. True, this is due to his playing a lot more than the others, but if one looks at his average, it is third on the all-time list of wicketkeeper captains.
|Wicketkeeper as Captain||T||Runs||Ave||100s||50s|
|MS Dhoni (India)||60||3454||40.63||5||24|
|Mushfiqur Rahim (Ban)||19||1316||42.45||2||8|
|FCM Alexander (WI)||18||466||22.19||0||2|
|A Flower (Zim)||16||1232||49.28||3||7|
|Moin Khan (Pak)||13||438||27.37||0||2|
|PW Sherwell (SA)||13||427||23.72||1||1|
|LK Germon (NZ)||12||382||21.22||0||1|
|Khaled Mashud (Ban)||12||385||20.26||0||1|
|AJ Stewart (Eng)||12||781||37.19||1||3|
|T Taibu (Zim)||10||674||37.44||1||5|
Now let us turn to MS Dhoni’s batting record as captain. Let us test the statement that has become a favourite of his detractors – he does not have the technique to bat in Test matches.
Here is a list of Indian captains who have scored at least 1000 runs as skipper. Dhoni, as one will find, not only ends up on top in terms of runs scored, he also has a batting average as that is captain better than men like Sourav Ganguly and MAK Pataudi – men picked for their abilities as specialist batsmen. Dhoni, with the bigger gloves forming part of his duties, outscored these stalwarts.
|Captain of India||T||R||Ave||100||50|
|N Kapil Dev||34||1364||31.72||3||8|
Along with Sachin Tendulkar (51.35), SM Gavaskar (50.72), Rahul Dravid (44.71) and Mohammad Azharuddin (43.93), Dhoni is one of the five men to average more than 40 as skipper of India.
If one suffers from the illusion that the average of 40.63 over 60 Tests is not extraordinary, one can do well to remember that Dhoni’s main job in the team was to keep wickets.
This is how Indian wicketkeepers – even some of the all-time favourites – have performed with the bat over the years. Dhoni’s overall collection of runs is way more than the others and his average remains by far the best among Indian stumpers.
And while considering the immense value Dhoni brought with the bat in Test matches, one should not forget that not one other wicketkeeper of India ever led the country in a single Test match.
Even if we consider the global stage, there have been very few wicketkeepers with more than 4000 runs in Test cricket. And Dhoni comes in at a creditable fourth if we consider their performances in terms of batting average.
|WKs with 4000 plus runs||T||R||Ave||100||50|
|A Flower (Zim)||55||4404||53.70||12||23|
|AC Gilchrist (Aus)||96||5570||47.60||17||26|
|MJ Prior (Eng)||79||4099||40.18||7||28|
|MS Dhoni (India)||90||4876||38.09||6||33|
|AJ Stewart (Eng)||82||4540||34.92||6||23|
|APE Knott (Eng)||95||4389||32.75||5||30|
|MV Boucher (ICC/SA)||147||5515||30.30||5||35|
|IA Healy (Aus)||119||4356||27.39||4||22|
To put things in perspective, Kumar Sangakkara’s phenomenal batting exploits come down to 3117 runs at 40.48 when he keeps wickets in Test matches. Hence, if one argues that Dhoni was not fit for Test cricket, it must be said that for someone not suited to that format he has had an exceptional run with the bat for 90 Tests.
Let us now take the not-suited-for-Tests argument and look at yet another mind-boggling statistic that underlines Dhoni’s batting accomplishments.
Taking 25 innings as the cut off, let us pick out the 20 best performing middle order batsmen in the history of Test cricket. To do this we consider only the performances notched up while batting at No 3 to No 6.
|Middle Order Batsmen
(No 3 – No 6)
|DG Bradman (Aus)||77||6671||98.10||28||13|
|G Kirsten (SA)||27||1563||65.12||7||6|
|E Paynter (Eng)||25||1367||65.09||4||5|
|Imran Khan (Pak)||28||1123||62.38||3||6|
|GA Headley (WI)||38||2183||62.37||10||5|
|RG Pollock (SA)||41||2256||60.97||7||11|
|CL Walcott (WI)||69||3723||60.04||15||14|
|KC Sangakkara (SL)||213||11733||59.25||37||50|
|GS Sobers (WI)||135||7048||59.22||24||25|
|KF Barrington (Eng)||125||6569||59.18||20||34|
|CA Davis (WI)||25||1232||58.66||4||4|
|JE Root (Eng)||29||1393||58.04||4||6|
|ED Weekes (WI)||77||4235||58.01||14||19|
|WR Hammond (Eng)||135||6934||57.78||21||22|
|AB de Villiers (SA)||119||6041||57.53||17||29|
|JH Kallis (ICC/SA)||276||13120||55.59||45||56|
|MS Dhoni (India)||30||1377||55.08||2||9|
|SR Tendulkar (India)||324||15789||54.25||51||68|
|CG Macartney (Aus)||32||1621||54.03||6||7|
|AD Mathews (SL)||64||2642||53.91||4||16|
Yes, we do find the non-Test player MS Dhoni slotted at no.18 of this list of exceptional batsmen. Besides, he tops the table among Indians, pipping Tendulkar for the top position. Tendulkar did play 294 innings more than Dhoni, but it is remarkable that in this select band Dhoni outscored all the glittering stalwarts of Indian middle order. Quite an achievement for someone without the technique or temperament for Test cricket.
He did end with a rather poor batting record in Australia, but when we look at his technique we are often startled to find that his average was 37.04 in England, the land where the ball swings around the most. His efforts in the Blighty were better than those managed by illustrious teammates Virender Sehwag (27.80) and VVS Laxman (34.47) and great predecessors like Polly Umrigar (18.20) and Vijay Manjrekar (26.90) – all stalwart men considered pillars in the structure of Indian batting greatness.
Coming to his captaincy record, he ends up as the most successful captain of India with 27 wins. The measure is obviously more refined if we take away Zimbabwe and Bangladesh out of the equation. With this adjustment we find Dhoni boasting a significantly better win-loss ratio than the other Indian captains.
Records of Indian captains (excluding minnows)
|*N Kapil Dev||34||4||7||22||0.571|
While Dhoni enjoyed phenomenal numbers as captain at home, with a 21-3 win-loss record, his overseas leadership took a hit due to the dismal performances in England and Australia from 2011.
However, if we look at overseas series wins by India, we find that along with Ajit Wadekar and Rahul Dravid, Dhoni is the only one to win two separate series outside the sub-continent.
India’s series wins abroad (other than in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh)
|MAK Pataudi||1967-68||New Zealand|
|Ajit Wadekar||1970-71||West Indies|
|M Azharuddin||1993||Sri Lanka|
|Rahul Dravid (2 Tests) +
Sourav Ganguly (1 Test)
|Rahul Dravid||2006||West Indies|
|MS Dhoni||2008-09||New Zealand|
|MS Dhoni||2011||West Indies|
Yes, the table is revealing.
Dhoni was as unconventional as it gets, as far away from the archetypal Test cricketer. However, he will go down in history as one of the most important of the Indian cricketers in the longest format.
Not suited for Test cricket? Well, that will be another myth that riddles the accounts of the game and perhaps one of the most fallacious.
(All stats upto 1 Jan 2015)