“Now that the World Cup is hardly a year away, Dhoni will be under the radar if he does not deliver. For his and the team’s sake, Dhoni needs to bat higher up the order. In the past, that move has produced positive results and it is certain, it will again do the same”.
When MS Dhoni stepped down from ODI captaincy last year, there was an assurance to one fact that Dhoni now would be able to play free cricket. He would be able to express himself as the aggressive MS Dhoni that the country knew when he came into the team. Everyone believed this, including the new skipper Virat Kohli.
“Somewhere as a player, you understand that responsibility can take that away from you. I think its time he enjoys his cricket for how much ever time he wants, and really express himself because he has taken so much burden for the country,” Kohli had said. Talking about where he would want Dhoni to bat in the team post captaincy, Kohli had explained, “About the batting bit, if I ask him where he wants to bat, I know what kind of a person he is. He’ll tell me ‘wherever you want me to bat’. I know he is like that, but I would love to see him bat higher-up and totally enjoy his cricket.”
The three ODIs against England at home in 2017 were Dhoni’s first assignment post captaincy and as Kohli had suggested that he wanted Dhoni to bat higher up the order, Dhoni came out to bat at No. 5 position, instead of his No. 6 or 7. He finished the three-match series with scores of 6, 134 and 25 as India won the series 2-1. It was Dhoni’s 10th ODI hundred and fourth batting at No. 5, the most among the slots Dhoni had batted on.
There are only two batting positions where Dhoni has played for 50 or more matches – No. 5 and No. 6 and the numbers suggest that whenever Dhoni has batted at No. 5, he has flourished for India. So far in his ODI career, Dhoni has batted at No. 5 for 68 times and averages 53.29 with four centuries and 15 fifties, whereas, batting at No. 6 for 124 times, Dhoni averages less, 46.90 with a century and 29 fifties.
— Gaurav Kapur (@gauravkapur) February 13, 2018
In the recently included ODI series against South Africa, if it was not for Kohli’s outstanding form, India would have found themselves in trouble, courtesy of misfiring middle-order. In the series, which India won 5-1, Kohli scored 558 runs in six matches at an average of 186 which included three centuries. Meanwhile, the middle-order men – Hardik Pandya, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni and Shreyas Iyer (two matches) – either failed or did not get a chance to bat much or did not bat at all because of the in-form Indian top-order. Pandya, Rahane and Dhoni, who played all the matches, finished with scores of 26, 140 and 69 and Iyer, who featured in two games piled up a mere 48 runs.
In the series against the Proteas, Dhoni batted only at No. 6 or 7. Since he came down the middle-order, he hardly got the chance to really settle well to come up with his natural game. With the pressure of playing with the tail-enders and finishing the game, Dhoni could not play freely. And suddenly, Kohli’s initial vision of allowing Dhoni to bat up the order so that the latter could enjoy his cricket and in turn strengthen the Indian side with his natural game seemed to have vanished.
Even India’s former opener and aggressive batsman, Virender Sehwag has suggested that Dhoni should be elevated in the batting order. “I believe, there’s still a scope of improvement in India’s middle-order batting line-up. MS Dhoni should play up the order. I think Kohli fears that if Dhoni comes at No 4 and loses his wicket early then there won’t be anyone on the finishing spot. But Kohli should send him up the order and hand the finisher’s role to Manish Pandey or Hardik Pandya or Kedar Jadhav,” Sehwag said after India’s middle-order failure in the ODI series in South Africa.
Dhoni, being one of the important faces in the Indian team, his batting position usually depends on the score at the particular time. For example, if India are batting first and after 32 overs, they are 185-1 and then a wicket falls. That’s the ideal place for Dhoni to bat. Or maximum, he could push it to No. 5, that’s because of his confidence there suggested by the numbers. When the team’s momentum was already high and suddenly they suffer a setback, in order to keep the momentum ticking off, there would be no better choice than Dhoni to come out to bat then.
Moreover, now that Dhoni is not the skipper anymore, his place in the side will majorly depend on the numbers he produces. It is very crucial for him to maintain that aspect. In 2017, he ensured there were no complaints against him as a batsman – he finished the year with 788 runs in 29 matches at a superb average of 60.61. Now that the World Cup is hardly a year away, Dhoni will be under the radar if he does not deliver. For his and the team’s sake, Dhoni needs to bat higher up the order. In the past, that move has produced positive results and it is certain, it will again do the same.