MS Dhoni looks a pale shadow of his past as a batsman in this Indian Premier League (IPL). So far the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) captain has scored 164 runs in 10 matches. Arguably the greatest finisher in the history of white-ball cricket is struggling to finish games.
Is Dhoni’s hitting prowess on the wane?
Statistics suggest so. His career strike-rate in T20s, 135.54, is way above his strike-rate in this edition of the IPL, 125.19. In 326 T20s, he has hit a whopping 301 sixes.
In 190 IPL matches between 2008 and 2019, Dhoni had hit 209 sixes, which means 1.1 sixes per game on average. The 2018 season was his brightest, six-hitting wise – 30 maximums in 16 games. Last year, he had hit 23 sixes in 15 matches. Compared to that, in 10 IPL matches this term, he has hit only six sixes. His six-hitting average this term has dropped 0.6 per game.
But with age, Dhoni has remodelled his batting, isn’t it?
True. Over the past three-four years, Dhoni has played the role of a grafter to build his innings before upping the ante at the back end of the innings. His 56 not out against West Indies in the 50-over World Cup last year was a case in point. From 140/4, when India were under pressure, he anchored the innings to 268/7, staying there till the end. Hardik Pandya played the role of an aggressor, but Dhoni still finished with a 91-plus strike-rate, very creditable by ODIs standards. Before that, in early 2019, his 55 not out and 87 not out in two ODIs against Australia in Adelaide and Melbourne respectively had guided India home. In the ongoing IPL, Dhoni has remained unbeaten twice; a 36-ball 47 against Sunrisers Hyderabad and a 17-ball 29 in a losing chase in the first-leg fixture against Rajasthan Royals (RR). In the tournament opener against Mumbai Indians, he barely got a chance to bat (0*, 2 balls) 📣 Click to follow Express Explained on Telegram
Why is Dhoni struggling to regain his mojo?
Dhoni came into this IPL completely undercooked. The World Cup semifinal against New Zealand at Old Trafford on July 10, 2019 was his last competitive fixture. A Covid-induced lockdown forced an elongated layoff for every cricketer. But in Dhoni’s case, the break was even longer. Also, at 39 years of age, he is in the twilight of his career.
According to former Pakistan captain Javed Miandad, lack of game time has affected Dhoni’s match fitness. “Dhoni has come to this IPL after a long lay-off. He didn’t have any game time coming into this IPL. And here is where the problem lies. It’s not easy to become match fit and get into the groove, coming from such a long lay-off. For a player of Dhoni’s age, it becomes even more difficult. Dhoni needs to make himself match-fit enough,” the Pakistan batting legend told The Indian Express.
How is lack of game time affecting Dhoni’s batting?
He is not getting his timing right. His reflexes are apparently slower. “I have seen (MS) Dhoni’s batting in this IPL. To me, the problem areas are his timing and reflexes. If a player is not totally match fit, his timing and reflexes get slower,” Miandad elaborated. Also, according to him, Dhoni’s “body positions were not right” for certain shots.
Then, how is AB de Villiers, at 36, going at a strike-rate of 190 in this tournament?
De Villiers, too, is on the wrong side of 30 and retired from international cricket. But he is winning matches for Royal Challengers Bangalore. The difference is that despite his international retirement, de Villiers is still a regular in different T20 leagues like Big Bash etc. Also, as a batsman, de Villiers has a bigger range than Dhoni. It allows de Villiers greater liberty to place the ball through the gaps. “Hitting boundaries and sixes is about timing the ball well and your ability to pick the gaps. As a batsman, you have to have the range to place the ball perfectly,” Miandad pointed out.
Is Dhoni struggling to time the ball?
During the return-leg fixture between CSK and RR, medium-pacer Kartik Tyagi bowled a full-toss to Dhoni. The latter already had played 25 balls and was well set. He attempted a slog but mistimed it and the ball limply went to long-on. Dhoni at his best would have sent it 20 rows back over long-on.
Can he return to his best?
At 39, he will have to roll back the years to do that. Miandad, however, hoped that Dhoni would get better when he is more match-fit. “My suggestion to him will be to increase his exercise drills and batting time at the nets. If he is doing 20 sit-ups (for example), he can increase it to 30. If he is doing five sprints, he can increase it to eight. If he is spending an hour at the nets for batting practice, he can increase it to two hours. It’s not necessary that you have to do it at a stretch. You can do it in parts. You can do it in three sessions – morning, afternoon and evening. Dhoni knows this and maybe, he is already doing that,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines