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
MS Dhoni 60 3454 40.63 5 24
SC Ganguly 49 2561 37.66 5 13
M Azharuddin 47 2856 43.93 9 9
SM Gavaskar 47 3449 50.72 11 14
MAK Pataudi 40 2424 34.14 5 13
N Kapil Dev 34 1364 31.72 3 8
R Dravid 25 1736 44.51 4 10
SR Tendulkar 25 2054 51.35 7 7

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.

Indian wicketkeepers T R Ave 100 50
MS Dhoni 90 4876 38.09 6 33
BK Kunderan 15 831 33.24 2 3
FM Engineer 46 2611 31.08 2 16
PA Patel 20 683 29.69 0 4
SMH Kirmani 88 2759 27.04 2 12
KS More 49 1285 25.70 0 7
NR Mongia 44 1442 24.03 1 6
KD Karthik 16 491 21.34 0 3
PK Sen 14 165 11.78 0 0
PG Joshi 12 207 10.89 0 1
NS Tamhane 21 225 10.22 0 1

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)

Inn Runs Ave 100 50
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)

Captain Mat Won Lost Draw W/L
*MS Dhoni 59 26 18 15 1.444
*R Dravid 23 7 6 10 1.166
*SM Gavaskar 47 9 8 30 1.125
*M Azharuddin 44 13 13 18 1.000
*SC Ganguly 38 12 12 14 1.000
*AL Wadekar 16 4 4 8 1.000
*N Kapil Dev 34 4 7 22 0.571
*BS Bedi 22 6 11 5 0.545
*MAK Pataudi 40 9 19 12 0.473
*SR Tendulkar 25 4 9 12 0.444

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)

Captain Year Opponent
MAK Pataudi 1967-68 New Zealand
Ajit Wadekar 1970-71 West Indies
Ajit Wadekar 1971 England
Kapil Dev 1986 England
M Azharuddin 1993 Sri Lanka
Rahul Dravid (2 Tests)  +
Sourav Ganguly (1 Test)
2003-04 Pakistan
Rahul Dravid 2006 West Indies
Rahul Dravid 2007 England
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)

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